J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."


An American Tourist

An American Tourist in Ireland (4)

On Monday, my third day in Ireland, we left Waterford and traveled south. One of the stops we made on this tour was to the coastal city of Cobh. Pronounced cove, Cobh was one of the main reasons I chose this particular tour. It used to be a departure point for people, either for travel or emigration across the sea.

In 1912, it was known as Queenstown, the final port of call for the RMS Titanic. The former White Star Line ticket office is now a museum, with a tour recounting the infamous ship’s final days and how passengers ranging from first to third class traveled. When you pay for the tour, you’re given a card, with the name and particulars of a passenger who boarded the grand ship, whether from Southampton, Cherbourg or Queenstown.

In the picture below is the remains of what was once the pier that allowed passengers to board their ship for destinations unknown. Titanic was the biggest ship of her time – so big, in fact that she had to weigh anchor away from the dock and her passengers were ferried out to her. In the photograph below, you can see the pier. Across the water, you can see some land masses – the closest one is a small island. Beyond that island is where Titanic waited for her passengers to either disembark or to board and check in with the purser.


Remainder of the White Star Line pier, Cobh, Ireland.
Remainder of the White Star Line pier, Cobh, Ireland.

Why was this such an important destination for me? When I was twelve, I read a book by Walter Lord, called A Night to Remember. A short book, it recounted the final days and hours of Titanic and the aftermath that followed. I remember looking at the photographs included in the book, particularly one of a woman who was clearly first class. The caption identified her as Mrs. J.J. Brown, but we all know her as the Unsinkable Molly Brown.

That began my life-long fascination with Titanic and the people who were connected with her and how she was built. For me, the best part about James Cameron’s Titanic was being able to see the ship in all her glorious technicolor glory. His research and attention to detail paid off – everything on that film ship came from the very same manufacturers who designed and built them for the real Titanic, down to the lifeboat davits.

In my collection of books, I have re-issued copies of diaries of those who survived the sinking, including Violet Jessop. Miss Jessop  has the distinction of having served not only aboard the Titanic, but her sister ships as well – Olympic and Britannic. It was a night that still lives today – lifeboat drills are mandatory, there is enough room for everyone and icebergs are monitored, among other things.

Where I stood, taking that picture, was where one second class passenger had stood on April 11, 1912. He was waiting patiently for his turn to be ferried across the water to the ship that would, within a few days, be at the bottom of the ocean.

He survived.

The passenger on my tour card did not.

Titanic Survivor by Violet Jessop
A Night to Remember by Walter Lord
The Titanic Disaster Hearings by Tom Kunz

An American Tourist in Ireland (3)

After Jerpoint Park, we traveled on to Waterford, where we would get a tour of the famous crystal factory, called Waterford Crystal. However, our tour didn’t start until three in the afternoon and we had arrived just before two. This gave us an hour of free time to do with as we pleased. I was in need of a restroom and technical assistance with my cellphone, as it had shut itself down and refused to start up.

Across the street from the factory was a what I assumed was a professional building, but ultimately turned out to be the Georgian museum, one of three museums within five minutes walking distance of the crystal factory. Right next to the Georgian museum was one dedicated to the Medieval era, but I opted for Reginald’s Tower. At four euros, how could I pass up any type of museum?

Reginald's Tower and replica viking ship.
Reginald’s Tower and replica viking ship.

Reginald’s Tower is the oldest civic building in Ireland, as well as the only urban monument to retain a Norse or Viking name (1). Had I more than one spare hour before the tour of the crystal factory, I would have made a point to visit the Georgian and the Medieval museums as well as the Tower. Something to look forward to when I plan my next visit to the Emerald Isle.

Once inside the museum, you are greeted by the relations desk and shop. The stone stairwell leading to the top of the tower is worn down by centuries of people climbing them – it’s a little unnerving to realize that you’re stepping on the same paths others had taken years earlier or decades or millennia, even (2).

In addition to being worn, the stairwell is narrow to the point of being claustrophobic. There is no railing, only a rope and that is tied off onto the wall, not the empty space opposite. I often found myself holding onto the steps themselves in order to keep my balance (narrow, worn and, fortunately, practically steep enough to be a ladder).

I was able to climb high enough to reach the third floor, but mild claustrophobia and vertigo convinced me to turn back. It’s not bad enough to keep me from attempting climbs, but it does make it uncomfortable to the point where I need to make decisions about continuing on or going back.

After my tour of the Tower, I made my way to First Street and was able to find a cellphone shop that took care of my phone. I realize this sounds incredibly mundane (I’m in Ireland!), but this was on a Sunday and most businesses are closed on Sundays. So it was a stroke of luck to find one that was open.

I also found a bookshop (I have an unnerving ability to do that), browsed through their displays of books about the Easter Rising of 1916 and got a cup of coffee (one of three cups the entire time I was there – I drank more tea than coffee).

I was back at the crystal factory with a few minutes to spare. This tour of the factory showed us how the crystal is made, from sports trophies to the panels that go on the New Year’s Eve ball in Times Square, New York. It is an amazing experience and one I highly recommend.

By all means, visit the more well-known cities, like Dublin or Galway or Belfast, but if you don’t make the journey to Waterford, you’re missing a lot.

(1) Quote from the Wikipedia article.
(2) This is true regardless of what part of the world you’re in – I live in a valley that had been inhabited by Native Americans long before the Europeans arrived.

An American Tourist in Ireland (2)

On Sunday, my second day in Ireland, my tour group left Dublin shortly after breakfast. We then traveled to Co. Kilkenny see the lost town of Jerpoint Park and the church of St. Nicholas.

Artist rendition of the the village; lower right hand corner shows infrared outline of the original village.
Artist rendition of the village; the lower right hand corner shows the outline of the original village.

This was a fun and unique experience, as a family owns not just the sheep farm and house (originally to be servants quarters), but the lost village itself is located on the property. The family live in what is called Belmore House, a stately home that was originally designed to be the servants’ quarters, according to our guide. But the gentleman building the house ran out of money, so the house remains as it is.

The old road that led us Belmore House actually ran through the original village of Newtown Jerpoint, population 250. There a number of pubs in this village, more than one would think could be sustained by a such a small population.

Church of St. Nicolas. In the background, to the right, is Jerpoint Abbey.

How many pubs were there in this village? Fourteen. That’s right, folks, there were fourteen pubs to satisfy the thirst of 250 villagers.

Well, actually, not just the villagers – it was designed for the many tourists that came through to visit the Church of St. Nicholas and Jerpoint Abbey. You know, people like me, who like to lollygag and take pictures and write blog posts about their experiences. Although, I am not sure there were such things as travel guides back in the day, when St. Nicholas was re-interred in the churchyard he currently resides in.

Tomb of St. Nicolas.

And who is this St. Nicholas chap, anyway? And why was this an important stop, you ask? Well, St. Nicholas is St. Nicholas of Myra and he was buried in that churchyard over 800 years ago. Allegedly brought back to Ireland by two crusaders, he has remained in the churchyard ever since. If you look carefully at the grave slab, you can see their faces inscribed on either side of St. Nicholas in the photo to the left.

It wasn’t unusual for the crusaders to bring back the remains of an alleged saint – the Normans were keen collectors of religious artifacts and brought what they found back home. Whether the items in question should have been moved in the first place is up for debate. (1)

This is St. Nicholas.

As with many other historical figures, we are lucky to have physical descriptions of them recorded in written form. Even luckier are when there are sketches or paintings made, generally from life. Most often, however, we are left with an artist’s rendition of what the written word describes.

And to the right is a very stylized rendition of what St. Nicholas may have looked like, back when he was hale and hearty, very much alive and practicing his faith among his flock and blessing those around him.


But thanks to the myriad paths of myth and fantasy, we have come to know him as this fellow in the photo on the left.:

So, in essence, I know where Santa Claus is buried.





(1) Given that many museums are now finding themselves in an awkward position of being in possession of artifacts that technically should not have been given to them and are making efforts to either return or make reparations, I wonder if the caretakers of St. Nicholas’ church have ever had that question put to them. I regret not asking.

An American Tourist in Ireland (1)

In books and movies (and the occasional TV show), when the main character goes on vacation, adventure inevitably happens. Agatha Christie wrote quite a few of my favorites, among them, The Man in the Brown Suit and They Came to Baghdad. In both novels, a young woman embarks on an adventure – Anne Beddingfeld (TMitBS) for mystery and Victoria Jones (TCtB) for love. Both get far more than they bargained for.

A classic adventure story by the Queen of Crime and one of my favorites.

When I embarked on my adventure to Ireland, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. I only knew this was a journey I needed to make. My great-great grandparents emigrated from the Emerald Isle and that’s pretty much all I know about them. They are the mystery I need to unravel and put the puzzle pieces in the right place, to better know my family, my great-grandfather and myself.

Did I get adventure? Not in the same manner as Anne or Victoria did. I did go to a country that was magical and exciting and both familiar and strange to me. I got a marriage proposal, after a fashion, but it was more in jest than seriousness. I felt Ireland’s history and present merge, depart and walk alongside each other. In a country whose civilization dates back more than ten thousand years, it’s not uncommon to feel that weight.

History is itself an adventure. So is life.

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