Friday, July 11, 2014
Ah, the grass really is always greener, isn't it. I am so grateful for our trip to the Celtic Isles. We had such a wonderful time. The sites and sounds and experiences we had were priceless. I can't wait to return for the Crowley Clan Gathering in Kinsale, Ireland in September, 2016. Until then, Slainte!
Friday, July 4, 2014
We spent the morning with a local Belfast tour guide, Rosemary. What a hoot she was! Like the rest though, she was also incredibly knowledgeable and full of good humor.
As in Derry, we learned that it and Belfast were the cities most affected by the violence of the uprising in the early 1970s and beyond. It broke my heart to see what are called the "peace walls" in each city separating protestants from catholics in Derry, and British views from Irish views in Belfast.
In contrast, however, there are sculptures, muralled gable walls, reductions in the walls and a Peace Bridge to honor the peace and prosperity that has replaced the violence. In Belfast, Bill Clinton and George Mitchell are considered saints for what they and the Canadian general (I can't remember his name now) did for creating peace in northern Ireland. As Rosemary put it, instead of terrorists we have tourists now and people here are very happy about it.
She joked that just a few years ago conferences began coming to Belfast, but they came almost as a challenge to see if they could survive the conference. I laughed when she said it, but it is was sad state of affairs. Now Belfast has become a destination city and a safe place to visit.
It was also very sad to be on the the street where thirteen people were shot by British police on Bloody Sunday in 1972 in Derry. There is currently an investigation going on because people don't just want an acknowledgment of what they did, they want prosecution.
In Derry, the government said they will tear down those walls in 2017. In Belfast, it's 2023. Let's hope those awful reminders of hate and separation soon go the way of the dreaded Berlin wall.
Young people are more moderate-minded she said and so there is hope for the future. All over Belfast, though, are flags or colors showing neighborhood leanings: British view or Irish views.
She stated that a mere 1% of people caused all the trouble. Bad news leads the headlines. The peaceful people who live here don't get coverage and they are the majority.
It's the same everywhere really. A few brave souls have the courage to make waves and push boundaries for freedom. Some resent them; many are grateful to them, and everyone honors their ultimate sacrifice.
I pray that one day that sacrifice will not be necessary. Anywhere.
On a big side note, the Titanic was built in Belfast and a beautiful building sits on the site. Game of Thrones is filmed here in Titanic Studios and in Northern Ireland. Extras get paid £50 per day and a speaking extra makes £800 per day plus food.
Now, we've said a tearful goodbye to our Indian friends who left us to visit family. Mariam hugged me and told me I was an inspiration. I can't even express how much she touched my heart. I am honored to have touched hers and helped her in some way.
We're on the ferry now heading back to Glasgow. This is our last day of vacation. Larry never bought himself anything. I am encouraging him to get something in Scotland. We leave for the airport at 10am tomorrow.
Thanks so much for reading this blog and for sharing in our vacation. We had such a good time.
I highly recommend taking an organized tour vacation. Seeing sights only provides one dimension of a place. Without the history, stories and characters you can't get the feel of it.
I can't fully express everything I got from this experience, but I can say that it was well worth what we spent. SLAINTE!
Thursday, July 3, 2014
We chatted with a couple from what we guess by their accent to be Belgium. They were on holiday for a month and had just began touring Ireland.
Our first stop was to a graveyard. We saw a Celtic cross from the tenth century and heard about the origin of the symbol itself. It was believed that a Christian monk put the cross over the Pagan circle to create what Rome also calls the Papal Cross. This cross was also carved with depictions of Adam and Eve, and Daniel in the lion's den.
We were then taken to the grave of W.B. Yeats, Ireland ' s poet. Outside the graveyard is also a sculpture of him with a carved quote from a poem of his about not treading on his dreams.
The doors of the church were adorned with two metal swans and the inside was quite lovely.
An hour and a half drive and a nap later, we were in Derry. Tony, our local guide first took us on a tour around the city then for a walk on the 400-year wall surrounding it.
Tony was born and raised in Derry and proudly declared that his father, grandfather and great grandfather all sold tickets to Derry immigrants wanting to flee to America. In the earliest days, they fled in search of religious freedom. His family is all buried in the huge cemetary on the hill outside the wall. He wasn't much different from our family.
Tony told us the history of King James the first and second ' s seiges to control the city. King James I had the wall built after successfully conquering it to the tune of £20,000. The wall is two miles around. After King James II was ousted, he came back with an army to get his throne back.
After he threatened to kill everyone inside, it took 13 orphan teenagers to think to take the keys and lock the four gates to the wall. The seize lasted 105 days and many starved to death. Finally they won out and the boys were credited with saving the city. Thirteen Sycamore trees are planted on the wall in their memory. It's blooms resemble sets of keys.
Tony was a very entertaining storyteller using his hands and feet to stress a point. Every time he talked about shooting someone, he put his arms up like he was holding a rifle. Then he'd kick an invisible can to dramatized kicking the king out if the city. It was priceless.
We had a nice lunch in the beautiful Guild Hall, with gorgeous stained glass windows and an organ with 3,132 pipes! Then we boarded the bus once more for the Giant's Causeway.
This place was fantastic. It is a huge geological formation of basalt columns fused together in various lengths begun initially by a volcanic explosion. We walked on the flat stones out to the sea; careful not to venture so far a huge wave would carry us away or allow us to slip on their wetness. It was really fun feeling like a kid again climbing all around.
Now we're at our hotel Stormont in Belfast across the street from the impressive government Assembly building. We don't have energy left to walk over and explore it. We only have energy for supper and a nightcap.
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
We were returned to a group breakfast table with more of the same. I love adding sautéed mushrooms, broiled tomatoes and beans for breakfast to my eggs and puddings.
Today was one of lots of riding and napping. The scenery all along our way changed from verdant shades of green that resembled a patchwork quilt to the more barren-looking Burren (beautiful in its own right). The quilt stitching was of stone walls. More sheep, cattle and horses lay, eat and stand staring at gates at every turn.
Ruins of stone dwellings: farm and tower houses with castles are everywhere. It is the most historical landscape I've scene. Between the sad songs sung that remind me of a type of blues in Celtic style and the ruins of abandoned homes from the famine, I want to feel sad. But I don't. Reclamation and restoration is everywhere too and this makes me happy. That and the glorious, albeit atypical, weather we've been enjoying the past two days all contribute to my light heart and smiling face.
My new friend from India is wealthy but seeks to "be happy like you", she told me in the elevator yesterday morning in front of her husband. I suggested she find the happy key in her head and turn it. She's been following me ever since.
She followed me, Larry and Julie up the hill to view the incredible Cliffs of Moher. What a sight! They are just magnificent. I told her I was happy she joined us and gave her a thumbs up.
There was a flora and fauna exhibit in the visitor center built into the side of a cliff. A viewing window was built into the cliff off the cafe area. An architecture contest design winner determined the building form. It is very well done.
In an hour we were traveling through the gorgeous Galway Bay where we learned that a hooker here refers to a traditional, black - bottom fishing boat.
We spent two hours in charming Galway enjoying lunch in a fine old building of dark, carved wood and shopping.
Next stop was a Catholic pilgrimage site in Knock. In 1879, fifteen ordinary village people saw what appeared to be the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. John, an alter with a plain cross and a lamb on it on the gable end of the church. Rome authenticated the event and in 1979, Saint John Paul II visited the site declaring it to be the goal of his visit to Ireland.
I went to the site which now is a chapel where Mass was being said. A lovely rendition sculpture all in white is now where the vision occured. I was very moved and prayed. I purchased a candle that was lit for me in a separate area outside and behind the church and said another prayer. Lastly I popped into the Basilica where Mass had just ended and an attendant was wheeling a large statue of Mary with her golden crown surrounded by beautiful flowers outside on a cart so we could photograph her.
I have never been to a purported visitation place but have always wanted to. I thought I might get to Majagoria in Croatia, but never did. My heart was full at receiving this wish come true in Ireland.
Now we're at the Radisson Hotel in Sligo waiting to go to dinner. We're too far from town so this is where we'll stay tonight. Larry and I just finished off the bottle of Jameson Gold Reserve we bought in Dublin. We vow to get a larger bottle to take home at the duty free shop in Heathrow.
Night, night for now. Slainte!
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
What an amazing birthday today! First my loving husband gave me a pretty St. Bridget ' s cross necklace and a funny card. Then on the bus after breakfast my new tour friends gave me the perfect card and sang to me. I am the third birthday girl of this trip.
We drove around the majestic and magical Ring of Kerry. The weather could not have been more perfect. It was sunny and warm. In fact Ann Marie, our tour director, kept exclaiming into this evening that we're going to go home with the completely wrong impression of the weather here. She said, "You must be looked on quite fairly to be getting a beautiful day like this!" I feel it's true in my heart.
We made an hour's stop at a charming little Inn overlooking the ocean. There were stone ruins of abandoned dwellings from the famine years along with stone walls, greenery and those adorable painted sheep.
We shopped a little then got an Irish coffee and some delicious homemade bread pudding with custard sauce...warm. It was just delightful. I was in such a happy mood.
I went outside afterwards, slid off my flip flops and walked around barefoot on the Irish earth. I closed my eyes and said a fervent prayer of thanks before searching for my rock souvenir. I found two little ones: one was white and looked (to me) like a leprechaun's profile, and the other was a greenish slate star.
A little bird serenaded me on top if a sign to boot. He was so tiny and cute!
On we went around the Ring, stopping here and there to take pictures. We saw several 4,000 year old stone ring dwellings that were once covered in thatch. People lived here as far back as 9,000 years! Ann Marie said wherever a newer home was the stone remnant of the house that used to be there was close by. It's true! As we have been told, people had to leave here because they couldn't eat the scenery. My heart still felt sad to see in person what they had to abandon.
After our drive, we checked into the Clarion Hotel in Limerick with time enough to change for our medieval evening at Bunratty Castle. What a fun time that was!
Before going to the castle, we walked around and visited a Victorian street village. In one house the peat bricks were piled in a basket and the smell still filled the room.
The musicians and singers who were also our wait staff were fabulous. And the food was just delicious. We were given a knife to eat with and that's all. My birthday was acknowledged as well as a couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. It was truly a special evening and I thanked everyone on the bus for making my day.
Thanks also to everyone who sent me birthday wishes. They were truly apreciated. Love, Kathy
The Riverside Hotel in Killarney is the first location where connecting with the Internet was problematic. It is an older place just dripping with charm though. Our room is furnished with lovely dark cherry wood. Instead of buffet breakfast, we got plated meaning they bring your order to the table.
Our first stop yesterday was at the Irish National Stud in Kildare. A cute young man, Kyle, was our guide. He has been at the job less than a month, replacing his best friend who is traveling for the summer and whose father is the CEO. His friend thought he'd be good with people so got him the job and gave him a crash course. The amount of information and knowledge he conveyed was impressive. I'm trying to fix him up with my Goddaughter, Sophie. She works with horses too.
We learned a lot about stallion behavior, how horses are selected by owners, breeding and foal weening. It was fascinating and the foals were adorable. One nibbled my hand for a bit.
There was also a beautiful, 100-year older Japanese garden on the extensive grounds and we left just enough time on our visit for a quick walk through a small part of it. Just lovely.
We stopped at Cashel Rock castle next but it was more of a comfort stop to pee. Not enough time to explore the castle or the village.
Larry and I weren't interested in kissing the Blarney Stone because I already have a gift of the gab. Good thing too because the three people on our tour who did, spent our entire 2 hour visit in line. Cruise ship tourists make lines here ridiculously long.
We paid to go in and walked the grounds, got good castle photos and shopped in the woolen mill.
In Killarney, Billy the jaunty carriage driver took us on an hour tour of the national park, complete with Castle Ross (another property destroyed by Cromwell) and a lovely lake. Locals were relaxing on the shore while children threw rocks in the water. I learned the Stinging Nettle is delicious and is good for arthritis!
After dinner a couple women joined Larry and I at an Inn a five minute walk up the road from our hotel. Twelve local couples folk danced while the rest of us watched. The festivities didn't begin until after 10pm.
I asked one woman dancing what the dance was called. I think she said polkafit. It was a folk dance that combined fast polka with clogging and medieval pattern dancing. Nobody smiled. It was serious fun. British women sitting behind us laughed about their serious faces.
One woman said to me as we walked out, "I thought you was going to do a little dancin' yir self then?" "No", I said," I have to get up very early." "Aw too bad", she replied in a thick Irish brogue.