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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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Ireland

So, a year ago on this date, I was in Ireland…..

…….and I have to say, it’s hard to believe it’s been a year.

It feels like it just happened.  It also feels like it happened more than a year ago.

I plan to go back, there’s so much more to see than just taking a tour over the course of a week and cramming so much activity into a day.

Maybe not during high holy days, like Good Friday, but for sure I plan to take longer than eight days and seven nights to enjoy my stay.  I slept better in Ireland than I have at any other time in my life.  I ate breakfast at 7 AM.  I never eat breakfast until about 9 or 10.  Sometimes I just forget about it altogether.  Boy, did I eat while I was over there.  Once back in the states, I was back to my regular schedule.

But I never stopped thinking about Ireland.

I have to go back.  My soul belongs there.  So does my heart.  I have family there – I have no idea who they are and they have no idea of who I am.  But I want to know them.

Plus, you know, Guinness beer tastes better over there.

Irish countryside.
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So, I was thinking some random thoughts this morning……

……..about life, the universe and everything (the answer is 42). I found myself thinking about Ireland again (it never really goes away, memories of places that claim your heart) and of the two, very different, reactions I got when I mentioned the trip.

Reaction #1 – “You’re going to Ireland! How exciting!”

This was the general response and it would devolve into the minutiae of what I was going to see, when I was going, how long, etc. I loved these conversations because they reminded me of what was to come. I had no idea of what to expect, beyond just getting there. So I learned to not expect anything.

A lot of planning and packing, re-packing and organizing went on in the six or seven months before I left. I like to make sure I’ve prepared for every contingency. Also, I was really excited and couldn’t wait to get started.

Reaction #2 – “I bet you’ll meet someone.”

Or variations of that.

I was always a little nonplussed by that comment. I was going to Ireland, not Mars – of course I was going to meet people.

Invariably, they meant that I would meet a man, a romantic prospect that would add a little sparkle to an already sparkling adventure, with the shelf-life of the trip’s duration.

This wasn’t wrong for them to hope and I appreciated their love for me, in wanting that for me, a little romance to garnish what I already had.

I didn’t plan my trip for any reason other than to visit the land of my great-great grandparents. I wanted to touch the ground they had walked on, maybe get closer to knowing where they may have been born and grew up. I don’t think I’m any closer than I was before the trip, but at least I’m not any further away.

As for love, well, it’ll happen when it happens. I’m too busy with my life to worry about it.

Irish countryside.
Irish countryside.

An American Tourist in Ireland (13)

Dinner the night before had been fun – we were entertained by some of live Irish music and a trio of Irish dancers. Lots of laughing and teasing and good food and drink. And then it was back to the hotel to pack and get ready for the journey home.

Saturday. My last morning in Ireland.

What else can I say? Other than I had to make sure everything was ready, I had showered and dressed. Then, with all my luggage in tow, I made my way down to the restaurant for my last breakfast in Ireland. It was an early trip to the airport, which is always best for checking in one’s luggage and going through the security check points.

I also went through customs at the Dublin airport, prior to getting to my gate. I was prepared to do this when I landed in San Francisco, but because the customs check-point was in the Dublin airport, I didn’t have to. I actually think this is a far more efficient way of doing things – you have the security check-points, then customs, all of which are designed to prevent trouble from getting on the plane.

On the flight back to San Francisco, I finally got to see The Martian (2015) and one other film, before I settled in for a long nap.

On the flight to Dublin, however, I treated myself to The Hobbit (2012) and The Desolation of Smaug (2013).

How else to start an unexpected journey?

bilbo

I enjoyed writing about my trip to Ireland. I was able to recall and embrace certain moments that I’d almost forgotten. It seems to have been an enjoyable read for many.

Thank you for joining me in remembering.

An American Tourist in Ireland (12)

After we left Kilbeggan Distillery, we traveled back to Dublin. We were given the option of staying in the city for a couple of hours or going straight on to the hotel, to clean up and rest before dinner. Some of us (including yours truly), elected to spend a couple of hours in the city before going onto the hotel. The rest of the group went on to the hotel.

I joined a couple from the group and we walked along the streets, exploring some shops. I found some coins on the sidewalk, but half a block later, gave it to someone who needed it more. We had a specific time to meet back up with our tour driver, so even though it felt like a leisurely pace, it was actually the opposite.

I didn’t get many pictures here, either. Again, too much to see and observe than to just point the camera and take pictures. I did manage to get a couple of pictures of Dublin my first day, however, and I’ll share one here:

St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland.

I was the only one of thirty-five people on the tour to be traveling by myself. I knew no one, not on the tour or in Ireland. If I’m very lucky and keep up my efforts in tracing my family history, I may find relatives in the Emerald Isle.

An American Tourist in Ireland (11)

Friday was my last full day in Ireland. Without really thinking about it, I had chosen to make this journey between St. Patrick’s Day and the centennial anniversary of the Easter Rising(1). Had I been a little more aware of the historical significance of the dates, I would have found a way to stay on awhile longer.

We left Galway that morning, after breakfast and headed back towards Dublin. On the way back, we made a scheduled stop at KIlbeggan Distillery. As we pulled into the parking lot, an official greeter arrived to meet the bus. He exchanged hellos as we disembarked, taking time to make each of us feel welcome.

Kilbeggen Distillery Official Greeter.
The Kilbeggen Distillery Official Greeter.

After his warm greeting, the very friendly feline made sure we found our way to the sign, which showed us how to get on with the tour. We made our way down a narrow passage way to the main street – another sign directed us through a gate and we soon found ourselves in a kind of courtyard, which featured a cafe-type space (closed) and gift shop.

The main entrance sign, directing us to the correct route.
The main entrance sign, directing us to the correct route for our tour.

Once inside the distillery, we were greeted by our tour guide, who showed us the intricacies of how Irish whiskey was made. We were even given a free shot. Because it was also Good Friday, they weren’t allowed to sell us any alcohol. After that free shot, I was mightily tempted to put in an order, so it was probably a good thing I couldn’t buy it right then. (The temptation has long since worn off.)

Fully functioning water-wheel.
This is a fully functioning water-wheel.

I have the shot glass – they let us keep that, if we so chose. I so chose, and it is one of my prized belongings that I brought back with me.

A Kilbeggan shot glass.
A Kilbeggan shot glass.

I am not a whiskey drinker, although I have had a shot or two. The shot I sampled at Kilbeggan was delicious and fiery and warmed me to my toes. I wish I could remember what, exactly, we were served, because I’d like to sample it again. Also, I am the kind of person that likes to share the knowledge.

Drinker of whiskey or not, I would encourage a visit to Kilbeggan Distillery, if only to see how it must have worked centuries ago. Something for the history buffs to enjoy.

*****
(1) The Easter Rising of 1916. For an abbreviated version of events, see the film Michael Collins (1996), starring Liam Neeson.

An American Tourist in Ireland (10)

As I’ve been writing out these posts about my trip to Ireland, I’m catching memories of things we did en route to wherever we were headed next. I remember at point, we were on a ferry, crossing a channel. I know at one point, we had a stop and I got my first cup of coffee the entire time I was there. For my caffeine fix, I drank mostly black tea.

On Thursday, our regular driver had the day off, so we had a guest driver take us to a tour boat that shuttled us up the only ‘fjord’ in Ireland. It was a short trip, but the sights were beautiful, even with a sharp wind.

There was a cafe on board, so my tour mates treated themselves to coffee or whiskey or some other concoction. I treated myself to an Irish Hot Chocolate – it’s like an Irish coffee, but with hot chocolate. And I got whipped cream on it. Yummy!

The guest driver and I spoke most of the cruise, discussing ancestry and Ireland. He indicated quite strongly that if I had any relatives there, they were likely in the same place where my great-great grandparents had lived before making their journey to America. It goes without saying that it was commented on that I was clearly very Irish, so much so, that I could blend right in with the natives.

There are so many of these little moments, that I wish I’d had the foresight to keep a journal while I was there. Something to remember for next time. And there will be a next time. I don’t know how or when, but I will be going back to Ireland. Hopefully, I’ll find a way to stay longer and make stronger connections.

That’s the dream, anyway.

Churchyard in Cong, Ireland.
Churchyard in Cong, Ireland.

An American Tourist in Ireland (9)

After two nights in Killarney, we spent two nights in Galway. The previous two posts, visiting the Cliffs of Moher and Cong, were day trips to see more of Ireland. Let me just say that when you go on a tour, they pack things into every moment of each day. Which is a great way to first visit a foreign country.

I did not get any pictures of Galway while we followed our guide, though I did manage to video some street musicians playing. I’m not able to post them here at the moment, but will see if I can find a way to do it via another source. The music was lively and haunting and beautiful – the closest I’ve come to hearing it here in the states is at my local pub and wine bar.

Up to this point, I’d found the weather quite comfortable. It ranged from 35 to 50 degrees every day and I was warm enough wearing just a sweater. The rest of my group had bundled up in heavy coats, mufflers, hats and gloves. Galway changed that within five minutes. I finally put on my heavy coat, thanks to the ice-cold wind coming in off the water.

In some ways, I regret not taking more pictures. There was so much to see and experience, I didn’t want to separate myself from any of it by looking through a view finder. I constantly felt like I was on the verge of something – a discovery, a meeting, something. I’m not sure if I did and haven’t pieced it together yet, or if it’s waiting to reveal itself later on.

Perhaps it’s a mystery I can only unravel by going back to Ireland.

Village across the bay, near Skellig Michael Information Center.
Village across the bay, near Skellig Michael Information Center.

An American Tourist in Ireland (8)

At one point, we were scheduled to go to Skellig Michael, but due to poor weather and ocean conditions, that was cancelled. We did,  however, spend some time at the information and gift center, had lunch and watched a short film about the island. If you’re puzzling over why that name sounds so familiar, it would be due to the fact that it’s where Rey found Luke Skywalker at the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

So, on we went to Cong, which is also famous for cinematic reasons, namely the Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne film, The Quiet Man (1952). Below, is the tavern where Barry Fitzgerald’s character has a pint so often, that his horse knows to stop there before passing on by.

Exterior of the tavern, as seen in The Quiet Man.
Exterior of the tavern, as seen in The Quiet Man.

Most of the exteriors you see in the film were shot on location in Cong, but through the magic of film-making, the geography was rearranged just a wee bit. If you watch the film and then visit (or vice versa), you’ll get a slight disorienting feeling of things not quite matching up between real life and the film. And that’s okay – that’s the beauty of it all.

Exterior of the vicar's house as seen in The Quiet Man.
Exterior of the vicar’s house, as seen in              The Quiet Man.

 

Cong is a beautiful village that retains much of the charm that was surely there even before John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and the film crew even arrived. Many of the locals were given background parts – in fact, the gentleman leading the tour of Cong had a relative in the film, his father, I believe.

The Quiet Man Museum, replicated to resemble the actual cottage.
The Quiet Man Museum, replicated to resemble the actual cottage.

 

After the tour, we set off for a pub for lunch. We had to put in our choices early for either pasta or fish and chips. I chose the fish and chips – how could I pass that up when the fish had been caught that morning? I have to say, it had to be some of the best fish and chips I’d had in a long while.

There was a TV on, which isn’t at all surprising for a pub. But instead of sports or local news, a movie was playing that seemed awfully familiar. I realize it’s a bit washed out, but I hope you can make out who the actors are. 😉

Playing at the pub where we had lunch. Coincidence?
Playing at the pub where we had lunch. Coincidence? I think not.

It was a lovely place to visit and one I hope to see again.

Recommended:
The Quiet Man (1952)

An American Tourist in Ireland (7)

On Wednesday, we left Killarney and traveled north-west towards the Atlantic and the Cliffs of Moher. Right, I know, it sounds strange to write ‘west’ and ‘Atlantic’ in the same sentence, but it’s really a matter of perspective.

The Cliffs of Moher, to my left as I look our at the Atlantic Ocean.
The Cliffs of Moher, to my left as I look out at the Atlantic Ocean.

It was one of the few times that the sky was clear and blue, that rain did not threaten to shower down. I wouldn’t have minded the rain, but I enjoyed the sunny day. There were a number of shops built into the hill, an information center and a restaurant and museum. This greets you as you pull into the parking lot.

The footpath winds its way up to a stone wall and from there splits into two directions – left, towards the cliffs, and right, towards the tower. Although not steep, it is a work-out and I was a little out of breath when I got to the top.

That’s when I took the above photo of the cliffs. I didn’t feel much like going to the left, so I made my way to the right, towards O’Brien’s Tower. As I walked, I encountered a couple visiting from France – it tickled me that they thought I was ‘local’, meaning, Irish citizen (1). I was quick to correct that impression, but we had a good laugh about it and then I went on to the tower and they went back down towards the information center.

O'Brien's Tower, to my right as I face the Atlantic Ocean.
O’Brien’s Tower, to my right as I look out at the Atlantic Ocean.

There was so much to take in at each stop, that even as I’m writing this post about it, I know I’m not getting all the details in. Eventually, I left the tower and made my way to the information center, going upstairs to the restaurant for lunch.

Irish stew. I’m drooling just thinking about it. A little bit of heaven in a bowl. I may have to do a post solely about my culinary experiences.

Right. Back to the Cliffs of Moher.

Looking back on it, I remember feeling at peace. I was alone, but not lonely. It was a beautiful day and I made little connections here and there. I’m sitting here, reliving those moments and I know that someday, I’ll go back.

 

*****
(1) Must be that red hair, green eyes and fair complexion of mine. 😉

Previous posts:
An American Tourist in Ireland (1)
An American Tourist in Ireland (2)
An American Tourist in Ireland (3)
An American Tourist in Ireland (4)
An American Tourist in Ireland (5)
An American Tourist in Ireland (6)

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