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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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Ireland

An American Tourist in Ireland (6)

After Blarney Castle, we went on to Killarney, in county Cork. I don’t recall much of our first night there, other than a scrumptious dinner and meeting up with a couple of the tour members in the hotel pub and listening to live music. There’s always music in Ireland, no matter where you go and it’s beautiful.

On Tuesday morning, we went on a tour of Killarney National Park, which you can only access by horse and cart, bicycle, on foot or on horseback. We were lucky enough to be taken through the park by horse and cart, or jaunting.

I learned from my cart’s jarvey (driver) that he is charged with a couple of horses to train and work with and they are the horses that he drives until they are retired, either due to age or other reason. The horses are also rotated around, so that they get a proper amount of rest and relaxation, so that they don’t sour (1).

The park is more than 25,000 acres (that number is correct) and is protected space for deer and other animals that make it their home. In the middle of the park is a lake, called Lough Leane and on this lake is an island, of sorts, connected by bridge to the rest of the park. On this island is a castle – in order to get to it from the pony carts and the path through the park is a bridge.

From the bridge leading to Ross Castle.
From the bridge leading to Ross Castle.

Even before you cross the bridge, you are confronted with this view of Ross Castle (image below). It calls up all sorts of imaginative ideas about events that might have unfolded here or ended up here. On the day we visited, it was overcast and cool – I seemed to be the only one who was comfortable with the weather, which ranged from 38 to 49 degrees. Everyone was bundled up in jackets and mufflers and gloves – I wore only a sweater for warmth.

Ross Castle, Killarney, Ireland.
Ross Castle, Killarney, Ireland.

To our left, as we approached the castle, was a parking lot – this is where we met up with our tour bus driver. Our next adventure was the Ring of Kerry, which started from Ross Castle and wound its way to the other side of the lake.

 

If I remember right (and it’s been nearly a year since I made the trip), the Ring of Kerry is about 180 kilometers, which, translated to miles, is about 112. That would make the drive about two, two and half hours. Given that I was on a tour, we made a lot of stops, to get out and stretch our legs and look around, have tea and interact with some of the locals. This made the actual drive of the Ring of Kerry longer – perhaps most of the afternoon.

A stop on the Ring of Kerry.

On one such stop, an older gentleman had some baby goats.

I almost brought one home. Seriously, how could you not love a baby goat? Even a grown goat is pretty cute – also, they’re natural weed eaters and, if they’re female, can provide milk. Yes, they can get a little obnoxious, but – goat!!! (2)

We ended the day with dinner at The Jarvey’s Rest, where we were treated to excellent food, even better music and some traditional Irish dancing. One of the songs performed was Galway Girl, a popular song made even more so thanks to the film P.S. I Love You (2007).

Killarney is one of the places I would gladly return to. Then again, there hasn’t been any part of the trip I wouldn’t go back to.

Yes, it was that magical.

*****
(1) Any inaccuracies I may have made are mine and mine alone. For more information about the jaunting tours, follow the link: Killarney Jaunting Cars.
(2) I’m someone who, most of the time, finds animals to be better company than people.

 

An American Tourist in Ireland (5)

After our time in Cobh, our tour continued on towards Blarney Castle, near Cork. Our bus parked near a series of shops, a couple of restaurants and a pub, where I got fish and chips for lunch and a pint of Guinness for dessert.

Then we set off to begin the tour. The entrance to the castle grounds is next to the gift shop and where you’ll also come back to not only shop, but exit. Looking back on it, I suppose I could have gotten more pictures, but I wanted to experience everything first-hand, not through the view-finder of my camera.

I took this picture at the beginning of the pathway leading towards the castle. It seems rather imposing, sitting on the hill like that, doesn’t it?

Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle

There’s a little creek that runs through the grounds and bridge to cross it. I tossed a coin in and made a wish at that bridge, joining many others. No, I’m not telling you what my wish was – it would defeat the purpose of making it.

It is a bit of a walk to get to the castle itself. Although it’s not steep and the pathways are kept level and free of holes, there are hand-rails for assistance and, in some places where needed stairs. It’s a lovely walk – we had a few hours to spend, taking this tour, so I took my time getting to the castle, listening to the birds and water and people.

This next picture is of the tower where the Blarney Stone is. If you look carefully, you can see iron brackets at the very top of the tower, above the top window. Those brackets are also on the other side of that terrace – that’s where the Blarney Stone is.

If you look carefully at the top, you'll see iron brackets. On the opposite side is the Blarney Stone.
The tower of the       Blarney Stone.

The climb doesn’t end once you get to the castle. Nor is it straight up that tower to the Blarney Stone. Nope, you have to climb a winding, narrow, occasionally claustrophobic route to get to the top of the castle. It continues to wind its way around, giving you panoramic views of the grounds (a shot I definitely should have gotten) before you finally get to the Blarney Stone for a quick kiss and the resulting gift of eloquence.

All of that takes about 10 or 20 seconds. Then you have to wend your way back down to the ground. This is a little easier and there are a lot of hand rails for the descent. Also, it’s not nearly as claustrophobic going down as it was going up. This was a relief to me, though I suspect the castle had been designed that way for a purpose.

At the gift shop located at the castle entrance, there’s a photograph to commemorate the act waiting for you, should you choose to get it.

Yes, I got my photo, commemorating it. No, I’m not gonna share. That’s a treat you’ll have to experience for yourselves, should you ever find your path ending at Blarney Castle.

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.

Recommended:
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.

So, 2016 has been a fairly tumultuous year…..

…….and on that note, I’m going to focus on what it meant for me. There are far more articulate voices discussing the global implications of this last year, so I’ll leave it for them. I haven’t even come close to thinking about the loss of so many talented artists that I grew up listening to and how they inspired and influenced me. Reading the outpouring of love has been inspiring in and of itself. Listening to their music or reading their work or watching their performances has been a reminder that Prince and David Bowie and many others will continue to influence long after we’ve gone and turned to dust.

This post isn’t about that.

2016, for  me, was a little weird in some respects and very exciting in others. The weird aspect (and this is in a very good way) was that it resembled 1984. Not the Orwellian novel, but the year I turned 14. Return of the Jedi had come out the year before and Ghostbusters was on the horizon. I discovered another science fiction film series, seeing Star Trek III The Search for Spock seven of nine (1) showings in my local theater. I was thrilled when I discovered the TV series and the spin-offs that followed.

Following that trend, 2016 offered up a Star Trek film, a Ghostbusters film and a Star Wars film, the latter following on the heels of Episode VII. Was I a happy camper? Suffice to say, my inner 14 year old geek (nerd?) was delighted beyond words.

What was exciting about 2016?

I did a lot of traveling. I traveled to areas only a couple of hours from where I live by car, to both visit friends and to recharge. I traveled to another state to help my brother move (I came back by train, which is always a plus – trains are a great way to travel).

I fulfilled a life-long dream and traveled to Ireland, one of the many countries that my ancestors emigrated from in the nineteenth. It was a tour, starting and ending in Dublin, and I loved every minute of it. I drank more tea in a day than I’ve drunk in a month and I felt more awake and alert than I ever did with coffee. Shocking, I know, but there it is. I met some amazing people, both on the tour and among the Irish. Not surprisingly, I was asked many times if I had family in Ireland – I think I do, but I’m not sure who they are. This is a mystery I fully intend to solve over the course of the next year.

I’m feeling more secure in what I want for myself and a better vision of what I want my future to look like. I’m taking steps to follow my passion, make a plan and find a way. That’s what I know I can do, right this minute, for both the practical and the fanciful.

In a tumultuous year, making a plan and visualizing your ideal future can be the anchor you need to finally breathe.

 

(1) Star Trek Voyager reference, completely unintentional.

IMG_20160227_115204-2-2-2

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.

So, a few years ago, I picked up a blank journal……

……..and jotted down the kernel of an idea for a story (woman inherits farm in foreign country, travels over with intention to sell, finds horse in back yard, hilarity ensues) and then promptly forgot all about it.

This happens with me a lot. I have stacks of journals with story kernels that have yet to blossom into full-blown stories. I don’t really worry about it, because I know when the right combination of inspiration and willingness to hear the story happens, words get written.

So, while traveling on tour in Ireland, as I observed the countryside from my seat on the bus, I saw a lot of homes – modern and historic – dot the fields. One such older home that had clearly been vacant for some time and in the back yard, I saw horse wearing a green blanket. It was staring towards the road, its attitude one of complete surprise.
I recalled the kernel of an idea and immediately, the story came to me, full-blown. I had fully developed scenes, bits of dialogue, characters, plot, background – I had it all within seconds of seeing that horse in the green blanket.

I didn’t write anything down right away – I needed it to percolate for awhile before putting it down on paper. Part of this was because I had issues with finding the right names for at least one character (in the novel I’m currently working on, one character not only changed his name eight times, but his nationality as well). For me, finding the right name is important – it is the identifier of the person, it holds the key to understanding and it has power.

So, even though I had found the journal I’d jotted the kernel of an idea in, I held off writing anything down, even basic notes. The story kept building itself in my mind, but it wasn’t until I found the right names for the characters that I felt free to add the scenes and notes to the original idea for the story.

It’s funny how an idea I’d had years ago seemed to come to life upon seeing that horse in the green blanket. I wish I’d had time to snap a picture of it and I wonder, even now, what had held his attention, what it was that had surprised him.

I suppose I will never know about the real horse, but I can have a lot of fun imagining what comes next.

 

***
Editor’s note – this blog post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal VC

So, when starting a project……

……..it’s usually from point A to point B and all the way down to Z. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end, the culmination of the vision that inspired you to do the project in the first place. It can be creative, it can be a meal, it can be a paper for a class – the thing is, there’s a place where you clearly have a start point to jump from. But often, there doesn’t seem to be a clear point of departure, so the only thing to do is to jump right into the middle of things and start swimming in any direction.

This is what I’m doing as I research my great-grandfather’s history and that of his parents, who emigrated from Ireland shortly after the Great Hunger. The logical thing to do would have been to start with his papers, which are currently archived in another state at a historical center (he was something of a local bigwig in his day, serving as a lawyer, a justice and being part of the energy development). The next step after that would have been to then go to the state he had been born in, see the cemetery his parents and siblings had been buried in and look into local records. The third step, after having gained all pertinent material (birth dates, wedding dates, city and/or parish names), would have been a trip to Ireland and tracing the rest of the family from there.

Being that I have a somewhat impatient nature to get things started, I jumped right into the thick of it – I began with Step Three. I talked to a lot of people once I landed in Ireland – my driver, the tour guides – and they were very keen on helping me find the next step. I had a lot of pieces, they assured me, but they didn’t seem to connect together. The thing to do is to start back at the beginning and find those missing pieces, if, indeed, they can be found.

That I even know where to go to start my search is a big plus. I was kind of hoping to avoid going to another state to do this, but in my original plan, I knew that I would eventually have to do so. Still, the rewards will greatly outweigh my reluctance to go and that is the ultimate goal – finding my ancestral family and knowing more about who I am in the process.

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