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Ireland observations

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The break in my blogging was due to my trip to Ireland over the past 2 weeks. I’m going to do a retroactive blog of the days as though I was blogging when I was there. Of course I didn’t actually blog while I was there because I intentionally was unplugged — no internet at all and barely even touched a computer (download pictures from the camera). Use the Ireland category link on the right to see all the Ireland postings. Don’t forget they’re reverse chronological so scroll down to the bottom to see the first one. And be sure to click on links. I’ll be linking to pictures and things throughout the text.

For now I’ll start with some general observations:

  • not many bugs : I generally didn’t see screens on windows in the places we stayed. Apart from a swarm of gnats in a field, I saw probably 8 bugs in 2 weeks.
  • different words, same meaning : I really enjoyed the different words used for things. It’s all English but just more refined sounding.
    • road detour = diversion
    • parking lot = car park
    • shopping cart = trolley
    • loose gravel = loose chippings
    • spring water (not mineral) = still water
    • cookies = biscuits
    • graham cracker cookies = digestives
    • potato chips = crisps
    • french fries = chips
    • audio store like Ultimate Electronics = electronic furniture store
  • driving is a casual endeavor : This is especially true in the west around Galway. It was common to see a car parked halfway on the sidewalk and facing the opposite direction. In one case the diversion around some construction involved driving onto the sidewalk of the median. The roads were just generally tighter and people would go around each other in towns a lot. Clearly these roads predate automobiles by several hundred years and with the rock walls and general greenery surrounding the roads there really isn’t a way to expand the rural roads. And the sheep tend to rule the rural roads.
  • road signs : the road signs were both straightforward visually and vague textually. For example, on a curve you’ll see a sign that says slow, then maybe another that says slower and finally one that days dead slow. We also saw one near construction that simply said danger with no hint of what we should look out for — rocks? sheep? Vikings? workers? I’ve collected some shots of the road signs from our videos.
  • fire safety : You would see “fire assembly points” in public areas. Are these places to assemble to start a fire? Fires seem like a big deal because places have clearly posted fire emergency plans.
  • open late, close early : The work day tended to start around 9 AM and businesses tended to close up around 5 PM. Rush hour was around 9:30 AM. How great is that? Places like Dunnes might make it to 8 or 9 PM. But especially in Dublin most places to go closed up at 5 PM and shops at 6 PM. Pubs excluded.

Day 14 – Heading home

We ate at a lot of interesting places in Dublin. There’s places on virtually every block. It’s amazing. Some notables were

  • Bewleys Cafe – excellent food and atmosphere
  • Cornucopia – good vegetarian food
  • that New York Italian place (not sure of the name) in Temple Bar – super food and atmosphere
  • Bad Ass Cafe – great food and atmosphere (Sinead O’Connor waitressed here apparently)
  • Le Med – I might be remembering the name wrong. It had a rather uptight atmosphere and OK food, but nothing too special.
  • Eddie Rocket’s Diner – We stopped on the last day. It’s a 50s-style diner chain. The food was OK, but just a little off to me. On my chicken sandwich I ordered swiss cheese and expected a slice but instead got finely shredded cheese.

We packed up and got a cab to the airport. The airport was crazy busy with queues everywhere! We somehow made it through and submitted our vat tax refunds (being not from the EU we can get the 20% or so tax back on purchases minus a fee, assuming the store gave us the forms). After going through customs and being asked over and over if anyone had even considered touching our bags we were boarded around 1 PM and were heading home. The total travel time is 14 hours but with the -6 hour time change we arrived home at about 10 PM CST. Back to reality….

Day 13 – Aimee’s birthday

Today we plan to see some major sites — The General Post Office (not just a post office, but an important location in the Easter Rising of 1916), O’Connell Street, the James Joyce statue, and the Book of Kells at Trinity College.

We head across the river Liffey to the north side and walk up O’Connell Street. There’s many statues in Dublin dedicated to important figures in Irish history. First is Daniel O’Connell who used political, rather than violent, means to affect change in Irish rule in the early 1800s. The statue has a beautiful base below a stately figure of O’Connell. Next we see William Smith O’Brien who was sentenced to death for high treason in 1848 (that’s a good thing in those days of British rule). We also see an impressive statue of James Larkin “an Irish trade union leader and socialist activist” according to Wikipedia. The quotation is powerful as are the roses left there by someone.

Below the Spire of Dublin (in the median of O’Connell Street in front of the General Post Office) we find a political rally. The rally finishes and becomes a small march down O’Connell street. We cross the street into the General Post Office and get some shots of the statue inside [1][2]. It was hard to get a decent picture of the post office with all the buses going by.

Not far away is the James Joyce statue. After clearing a spot for Aimee we get some shots of her with the statue – no Aimee, sitting beneath Joyce, and hugging good ol’ James (is he smiling?). Next we came to the statue of Charles Stewart Parnell an impressive political leader in parliament for Ireland. Again, a powerful quotation is presented on the statue.

We next head to Trinity College and The Book of Kells. No photos allowed so we’re lacking visuals. But you can get a lot from Wikipedia. First there is an exhibition, Turning Darkness into Light, that explains the Book in context. It is considered an illuminated manuscript because of its illustrations. That decorative text style for me embodies how I imagined middle ages religious writings when I was young which was probably influenced by Monty Python and the Holy Grail‘s intro and chapter changes. Getting back to Kells, the book is fascinating. I was intrigued by the different materials used for the pigments — like lapis lazuli (a distinctive blue) which came from only 1 place in the world, a mine in northeast Afghanistan. The contents of the book are a Latin version of the 4 gospels. You can actually see 4 pages of the book (under glass and special lights). We were lucky on many occasions on our trip because June is not high tourist season (that starts in July) so things were not as busy as they could be. We were able to get right up to the display and spend a bit of time taking in this text that dates at least to the 11th century and maybe even the 6th century. I’ve been restraining myself for purchases thus far in the trip but let loose in the gift shop. I pick up the Kells font (see my Ireland logo), a small book on the Book of Kells (so I can remember what was in the exhibition), and small desk piece to remind me of my trip (an iron stone with the symbol of Ireland, a harp).

Our last statue of the day is that of Molly Malone near Grafton Street. We can’t get a good shot with all the people walking by.

This is our last full day in Ireland. Tomorrow we fly home. We’re ready to go home. It’s a lot of work traveling — seeing things every day!

Day 12 – Dublin continued

We notice that 15 Usher’s Island is rather close to us and decide to check it out. This house is the location of Joyce’s famous short story, The Dead, often considered one of the greatest short stories ever written. We read ‘The Dead’ the night before so the different scenes were fresh in our minds. We learn about the ambitious plans of Brendan Kilty to restore this 18th century home from Brendan himself. He’s rebuilt the rear foundation, the rear wall and top floor. We learn how the house was used by the William J. Smith family at the turn of the century for their grain business — the front room on the first floor has evidence of counters (based on the different floor boards). Also the door to the front room is a business door. The front door to the house is the original one. Just off the main hallway we learn that a room towards the rear of house was originally 2 rooms based on the floor and ceiling. This is the location of the pantry which was the setting for an important exchange between Gabriel (main character) and the housemaid Lily in ‘The Dead.’

We head upstairs and stop at the top of the stairs where the aunts likely stood and called down to Gabriel. Aimee also video taped the landing where Gretta heard an old Irish song that reminded her of a lost dead love. You see, ‘The Dead’ and 15 Usher’s Island is entwined with Joyce’s life. His aunts rented 2 floors in this house and they had a Joyce family dinner on the 6th of January every year. Remember the Michael Furey character was based on Michael Bodkin whose grave we looked for in Oughterard? There’s many aspects of Gretta that seem inspired by Nora, Joyce’s wife. But I’ll leave the literary analysis to the experts and stop. Brendan gave us a great personal tour highlighting both the rooms and his work to restore the house to its 1904 glory. It was a special experience for Aimee to explore this house that held the events that were the basis for ‘The Dead.’

We then walk to the National Museum of Ireland. We only make it through prehistoric Ireland and the road to independence before it closes (remember everything closes so early!). Those 2 exhibits were very interesting and we wish we were able to see more.

We have dinner in the Temple Bar area at a New York Italian place. We amazingly get a seat outside. It’s a beautiful night. There’s street performers nearby entertaining the crowd. The food is unbelievable and reasonably priced. This is Aimee’s birthday dinner the day before her birthday.

We are liking our new room even better. The angled ceiling gives it an attic feel with a window that’s like a skylight. There’s pigeons right outside our window. You could stick your head right out (remember no screens) and there is evidence that people have climbed out in the past. The nighttime sounds are more subdued — maybe from bouncing between buildings — and the floor residents are quieter at night (though not silent).

Day 11 – Bloomsday

It’s Bloomsday in Dublin. This is the day James Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses (with parallels to Homer’s Odyssey) takes place in Dublin in 1904. That is also the day Joyce and Nora Barnacle (remember her house in Galway?) had their first date. We head out for some lunch and information from the tourist info (the i on this map near the west end of Trinity College). We find out that there’s A LOT of things going on — it’s rather overwhelming. We’re running late and speed walk to the James Joyce Centre for the 2 pm tour.

It’s a large crowd for the walking tour. They split us into 2 groups. It turns out this walking tour is organized around the Cyclops chapter. Our tour guide is an energetic woman in period costume (it was hot that day too!). We stop by several locations on the north end of Dublin that are important to Joyce and that era. Near the end of the walk we round a corner and find several costumed people — these are the Balloonatics theatre company. They perform a few exchanges from the novel that occurred at the pub that we are standing in front of. The walk ends at St Mary’s Abbey, a 12th century church. You have to descend stairs from modern street level to Viking street level some 10 feet lower to enter. Inside some more Balloonatics perform scenes from Ulysses. It is very cool in the church since we are partially below ground.

It’s nearly time for some food so we head back across the river Liffey to eat and plan tomorrow. We do some browsing on the pedestrian Grafton Street (busy, full of shops).

The night in the hotel proves unbelievably noisy with some American boys next door talking loudly both in the hallways and in their room at 3 am. We tell them to be quiet, they don’t care. We tell the hotel desk to tell them to be quiet, they don’t care. We have the hotel desk find us a room on a quieter floor. It turns out there is a room on the 5th (top) floor, we’re on the 2nd. We literally walk up there and crash in the empty room. We’ll move our things in the morning.

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