Category Archives: Ireland

Flashback Friday: Ghost Ship

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The House Bar, Kilkenny, Ireland

The House Bar, Kilkenny, Ireland

[Another Friday, another flashback. Here is another chapter from the Irish adventure with my friend Belle. As with most of my Irish posts, you should imagine Van Morrison (or the Saw Doctors) playing in the background.]

 

23 March 2006

Crystal is expensive & its absence of color bothers me, but when you are at the Waterford Crystal Factory and you’ve watched the film about how it is the MOST perfect crystal in the world—how, in fact, imperfection is not tolerated—suddenly it seems like you need to own a piece and like maybe your cousin who is getting married next month needs a piece. And maybe your mother. Maybe an aunt. Maybe a neighbor. If you find yourself in this situation here is my advice to you: don’t do the euros-to-dollars conversion in your head. Pretend that the sticker that says ’85’ means eighty-five dollars and be done with it. Later, when your Visa bill comes, you can worry about the math and bad exchange rates. At which point, the prisms dancing around your living room and your cousin’s note of thanks about how her marriage would not have been so happy without your gift will soften the blow.

It really is just the most awful kind of extravagance there at the Waterford Crystal Visitors’ Center. For instance, I mailed ten postcards by dropping them into a giant crystal mailbox.

When you walk in, you are at the highest level of the show room, looking down on the chandeliers. This level has replicas of the various trophies that have been created (one in the shape of a football, most in the shapes of loving cups), place settings of goblets and doo-dads that Queen Elizabeth (or Oprah) couldn’t afford. It’s gorgeous, but excessive.

The next level down is where the goods are sold. I walked around this area for an hour, trying to do the math that would make it possible for me to spend money in a cost-effective way, get a wedding present, a shower present, some other small gifts, and spend the 200 euros needed so I could ship everything home for free. (For the record, other people are going in with me on the wedding gift. I’m not THAT extravagant. I do just teach at a small Midwestern university.)

I couldn’t decide, so I went to the next level down where the Wedgewood is sold. I’m not buying English china in Ireland. I’m not. So I scooched on into the room where other bits and bobs were sold. The space started feeling a lot less posh and a lot more like a basement. I was more comfortable. Here was the tourist tat that is sold everywhere in Ireland, of which I own too much because in those last minutes before a plane boards, suddenly it seems imperative that I have a Claddaugh apron or sixteen bumper stickers that say ‘Póg mo Thóin’ and key chains and coasters with my family’s supposed crest on it. It disturbed me that Waterford Crystal, an entity that couldn’t be more Irish, has the same class stratification that the Titanic (another Irish creation) did. So there I was in the basement in my scuffed up clogs with my hair in a ponytail and my black ‘just say no to troops in Shannon airport’ Shamrock button, KNOWING that I belong—and always will—in steerage. But for the sake of my cousin and her impending wedding, I clawed my way out of the ship’s hold before I was tempted to buy her a shamrock covered teapot with ‘Eire’ written above a facsimile of Brian Boru’s harp.

I made my choices, did the euro-only calculations, and then at the last minute asked the woman how long the free shipping would take on these items. Six weeks, she says. The wedding is in three weeks. Guess what’s going to be in my carry-on, wedged under the seat in my own little hunk of American Airline’s version of 3rd class travel?

An interlude: yesterday in Kilkenny, I saw a pub with a blue sign that said, “The Mouse Bar.” It made me laugh and imagine tiny rodents sidling up to the counter, asking for a pint, so I took a picture. This evening I mentioned it to Belle and Himself and showed them the picture. Isn’t this funny, I said. The artist looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “It’s the HOUSE bar,” he said. “Not the MOUSE bar. I told you about it before you left, said it would be a good place to eat.” Belle got so tickled she couldn’t quit laughing. Her face was red and Himself said, “Get control of yourself, woman.” For the rest of the night, all either of us would have to do was softly mention “mouse bar” and the other would start cackling.

Back to our regular scheduled programming:

This afternoon, Belle decided that I should see the famine ship in Dunbrody. She’d tried to see it last spring but it was in dry dock, and then later in the year she’d made the trip and found it worthwhile. She’d even checked the web last week to make sure it would be open this time of year. It is a replica of one of the ships that brought over emmigrants who were trying to leave an inhospitable Ireland in the mid 19th century. The night before she’d pointed me to a few sights to find information on a great-great grandfather no one in my father’s family knows anything about, and she said that at the ship I could search manifests to see who traveled from where and when. Though I’m not big on re-enactments of such things (can we really know how horrible the insides of those coffin ships were in 1847?), the genealogical aspect seemed excellent, so today we drove the 20 minutes or so down the road to New Ross, and as we were crossing the bridge, she said, “I don’t see the boat.” It was misty out and I figured she’d just forgotten where it was. The closer we got to the dock, the more sure it seemed that it wasn’t there.

The visitors’ center, however, was opened. People were there having sandwiches in the little shop and the ladies running it were dusting off the souvenir erasers and sterling silver Celtic crosses in hopes of making a sale. It was as if they were unaware that the boat wasn’t there. As if, perhaps, it were a ghost ship that only they could see. There were two computers there and I momentarily got my hopes up that I could do my search anyhow, but then quickly saw the ‘out of order’ signs hanging on both. Belle asked about the ship. It’s in dry dock again for some big sailing thing later in the spring. Belle pointed out that she’d just checked the website. The lady said, “But it only went into dry dock last week!” Belle said that yes, perhaps that was the case, but last week was when she checked the website to see if it was worth making the trip (FROM AMERICA) and the woman said, “But it will only be in dry dock for a week!” as if that explained it away. She then offered to show us a ten-minute video about the boat we wouldn’t be able to see. I said, ”No. I’ve gone off it,” and we left. And then we laughed most of the way back to Waterford. It was annoying, but I can’t really be too annoyed in Ireland about anything. Everything just seems sort of funny. Going to the wrong church. Having a pint at a mouse bar. Visiting a ghost ship.

To save the day, Belle then drove me to East Dunmore, a resort town that Maeve Binchy writes about and where movies of her books are filmed. Lots of cottages with English thatch. It was a windy, misty, cold day, and the sea was crashing against the rocks and roaring. We saw a monument to the sea-dead from the area that one of the Artist’s co-workers designed, and drove around the high road looking at the view. It was breathtaking, and there, without benefit of ten-minute films or faux famine ship passengers, I could think about what that voyage must have been like, how desperate a person would have to be to leave family and home to brave a sea that could be so violent. How optimistic. And while I’m not ego-centric enough to think they imagined their future generations drinking Coca Cola out of crystal goblets, I wonder if maybe they weren’t wanting something a little more close to perfect than what they’d been born into.

Isn’t that why we’re always scratching and whinging and charging things on our credit cards? Don’t we have some idea that things could be better if only we….

East Dunmore Memorial

East Dunmore Memorial

Flashback Friday: The Moose at the Gate Should Have Told You

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Kilkenny 2006

Kilkenny 2006

[Technically it’s Saturday and not Friday, but I got a new iPhone yesterday and so the day disappeared while I figured it out. So far, the only drawback to it that I see is that it’s becoming apparent I might need reading glasses. Anyhow, I’m continuing the Irish sojourn with Belle here.]

 March 26, 2006

This morning I woke to the sound of Belle scratching at my door, singing Morning Has Broken and saying that the musical wake up call is just another of the services offered here. I had a train to catch for my solo adventure to Kilkenny and she’d been given orders from the Artist to leave forty minutes early ‘just in case.’ She rolled her eyes at his caution, but it was harmless. Both of us were secretly pleased to have someone Irish clucking after us, I suspect.

My reasons for wanting to go were three-fold: 1) my need to go places alone periodically so I feel adventurous 2) Rick Steves’s (my former travel god) recommendation that it is the most beautiful inland medieval city in Ireland 3) a song of the same name that I love to torture myself with.

In terms of adventure, I’m more like a toddler who is just learning to walk, being shunted across a narrow living room between parents. I like the independence of mini-solo travel when I know at the end of the day someone is going to be waiting on me and will know if I’ve been hit on the head with a piece of Connemara marble and left for dead in a bog.  I KNOW adventurous people. I am not one. But this affords me the illusion.

My mother thinks I have amazing traveling acumen because I can navigate the Dayton International Airport without studying signs overlong. She finds this ability akin to a sixth sense or messages from the Holy Spirit, but the reality is that everything I know about getting from one place to another I learned at amusement parks. I think parents who don’t take their children to Disney World or Six Flags or even Kennywood should be brought up on child-endangerment charges because of the life-coping skills that can be learned there. When I go somewhere new, the first thing I do is look for the ‘park’ map, find the key things I want to do and make a plan of attack (to avoid lines, excess walking, or midday sun), and then search for a landmark by which I can navigate. ‘Tram’ service of some sort is operational most places. ‘Concession stands’ (most here selling pub grub instead of corn dogs, admittedly) are every two feet, where you can also find restroom facilities. Souvenirs can be purchased anywhere, though balloon animals in this location tend to make you look a bit touched in the head.

So this morning when I got off the train in Kilkenny (population 10,000), I immediately searched for castle turrets and got my bearings. Irish Frontierland. It was about a ten minute walk and on the way a car pulled up beside me and asked how to get to the castle. I said, ‘Straight ahead and turn left. You can’t miss it.’ I didn’t KNOW this for a fact (I’d left the guidebook back in Waterford, even) but the truth is these are basically always the directions you get in Ireland anyhow, so why not give them like a native? Sure enough several minutes later, I was standing behind the folks I’d given directions to, waiting to get my ticket for the Kilkenny Castle tour. They thanked me; I smiled, secretly pleased with my own navigational brilliance.

Kilkenny Castle is nice. I’m not a fan of Irish castles because I always think of oppression and audacity instead of the romance and adventure. In England, it is easier to buy into the whole chivalry thing without worrying too much about serfs and thralls. Maybe a beheaded wife will intrude on your Arthurian fantasies. Here, you can smell it for what it was–imperialism with a helping of genocide. Rich people (living richly) on the backs of the poor. But I digress. The castle is lovely. It’s 800 years old, has beautiful grounds, and has been refurbished impeccably in Victorian decor, the last era it was used before falling into ruin. The town was beautiful too. Bustling. Narrow, cobbled streets. Brightly colored store fronts. Just what you expect to find.

I ate lunch at the Irish equivalent of Subway, and when I was finished asked for directions to the cathedral. Which cathedral, the sandwich guy wanted to know. I don’t know–the cathedral you’re supposed to see when you are here, I said. He chewed his lip, consulted with the sandwich girl, and they decided it must be St. Mary’s I was after. I asked how I got there and they said in unison, Straight up the street, turn left, you can’t miss it.

I walked to the cathedral, humming ‘Kilkenny.’ It’s a song that you listen to when you feel you need to cry but can’t quite get yourself over the hump. Three lines from it and you’ll be wiping your nose on your sleeve. After the first round of the chorus, you’ll be belting out great hiccuping sobs. It’s like an old-timey Irish version of ‘Cats in the Cradle.’ So I sang it, walked to the cathedral, peered in the door and felt generally unmoved. I like Catholic churches when they aren’t in session. I like the smell of incense, the candles flickering, the sounds of the kneelers creaking under the weight of the devout. But this church didn’t feel like the one I was supposed to see. I shrugged and headed back toward the train station. On the walk I started thinking that ‘Kilkenny’ didn’t sound right either. It didn’t sound right at all. I hum-sang a few more bars and realized it WASN’T ‘Kilkenny.’ It was KILKELLY. ‘Kilkelly, Ireland, 18 and 60, my dear and loving son John/Your good friend the schoolmaster Pat McNamara’s so good as to write these words down.’

Sniff. Wipe.

So, while I had managed to get myself and a family of four I’d never met to the castle, I had basically gone to the wrong town in the first place and while in the wrong town I had hummed and fantasized about a song that was, apparently, inappropriate, seen a church that was not recommended by Rick Steves, Esq. Still, it was a good day. I’d seen some things, I had people waiting on me when I got home, and in my fake-out amusement park world, no humans in giant furry animal suits tried to hug me as I departed the magic kingdom of Kilkenny.

Flashback Friday: The Bus Eireann Shuffle

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Ireland

Ireland

[This post continues the travelog from last Friday’s flashback.  I’ve traveled to Ireland with a friend a co-worker, Belle, and have spent a couple of days without her, while I visit Galway and my relatives before reuniting with her in Waterford.]

Monday, March 20, 2006

I spent the better part of the day on a variety of buses,and have finally landed here in Waterford with Belle and her man, the Artist. The house is a good sort, full of books and his art and his dead Swedish wife’s Swedish things. In fact, the house feels more Swedish than Irish for reasons I’m unsure of except a few of the rooms are bright blue and yellow. You can tell life was lived well here for their family before she died several years ago and before the Artist himself got sick with MSA, which has left him weak and with muscles that do not always cooperate as he’d like for them too.

 

Belle picked me up at the bus station and we went to pick up her man at the osteopath, who is about to turn 40 and to celebrate is going to Malaysia. This seems a bit like celebrating a major event with an eyelid-ectomy to me, but I am not that adventurous. Steven the Osteopath, however, looks like a man who does yoga in his sleep and who will return from Malaysia fully relaxed and epiphinized in ways I will never be. After that we went to Tesco to do some grocery shopping (brown bread, Kerry Gold butter, Dubliner Cheese, and Guinness for me, slightly more healthy things for Belle and Himself.) And now here. Tomorrow is an unknown. If it is sunny, a walking tour of Waterford. If it is rainy, I have no idea. Probably a walking tour of Waterford.

 

Saturday and Sunday with the  cousins was good. Saturday night we watched Ireland beat England in rugby and win the Triple Crown. (I know nothing about rugby but was told anytime the Irish beat the English at anything it is cause for jubilation.) John and his young son were both so into the match that they were dancing around the TV, screaming at it, and a few times when it got too unnerving, John had to go into the other room to talk to Ginger the Cat in order to calm himself down.

 

Sunday I got to visit with the other cousins who live at the Homeplace. They have a cozy farmhouse, and the kids entertained me. I left full of tea and Guinness and good stories. One thing I learned that I did not know is that there are World Plowing Championships. Did you know this? Gerry the Cousin goes to them. He says they’d be no use to Americans who can plow however they like because our hot sun will burn off the green bits, but in Ireland if you don’t turn a row correctly the vegetation will grow and then no more row.

 

His wife and two oldest children are going to be in Chicago in April. It would be fun to see them on American soil, so I hope to make the trip up there. His wife is convinced that I must come back in September to go to the matchmaking festival in Lisdoonvarna, though the other set of cousins warned me off of it later.

 

On the bus today leaving Galway, I listened to the Saw Doctors sing about the West of Ireland and realized once again, that it is my favorite part of this country. As the bus moved out of County Galway and into County Clare and then further in toward Tipperary, the stone fences and rocky landscape became less and less frequent. It’s all gorgeous, but there is something in Connemara’s harsh landscape that speaks home to me in ways the rest of the country don’t.

 

Also, I felt a bit hypocritical that I was enjoying watching the lambs frolic and just twelve hours before had been enjoying a lamb dinner. It’s not right. I won’t ever eat lamb at home, but when I’m here and it is served up, I don’t feel like I should refuse. And sadly, it is delicious.

 

So the six hours on the bus was not so bad. I listened to my iPod shuffle thru various Irish songs and watched the movie of Ireland’s landscape unfold to the soundtrack of my own making.

 

That’s what I know today.

Flashback Friday: Magically Delicious (or, At Home in Ireland)

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rgsgalwaycitycorrib

[This flashback follows on the heels of that earlier lament that I’d missed my chance to go to Ireland with my friend. At the eleventh hour, cheap airfare was found!]

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Ireland is still here. Sometimes when I leave, I wonder if it disappears in a mist. An Irish Brigadoon. Since I was here in November [for a week-long writing workshop hosted by the Aspen Writers’ Foundation at Kinnitty Castle, led by Hugo Hamilton and Colum McCann], not much has changed except the flip flops are in the stores even though it’s only 8 degrees Celsius out.

Uneventful flight. Uneventful departure from my poet friend Belle, as she headed off to Waterford, where I will meet her and her boyfriend later. Uneventful bus ride to Galway alone. I got here at 10:30, dumped my suitcase at the train station, and decided to pack as much into the day as I could before my cousin Mary and her husband collected me at 3:00. At home, I could spend a Saturday such as this doing nothing but painting my nails and looking at the window. That’s it. A day just disappears. So it is nice to know that if I really want to, I can move quickly and accomplish more than usual. Like this blog, for instance, which will end in approximately five minutes so I’ll have time to go to Charlie Byrnes, buy a postcard & a couple of books, and trot over to station to pick up my suitcase and catch my ride with my cousins.

So, I got here, I looked at the eyesore which is still an Eyre Square under construction, with fewer trees, but otherwise looking like it did before the city planners spent their millions refurbishing it.

Saturdays in Galway are market days–a sort of farmers’ market with cheese and veg and hand-woven bracelets from Guatemala (Genuine Irish). While there I found the baby shirt I had wanted for my U2-lovin’ Writing Program Director last fall when she had her baby. It says “U2: Rattle and Mum.” It felt good to be shopping like I belonged there, like every Saturday I popped down to squeeze produce and buy presents for co-workers.

 

Then I turned a corner and saw what looked like the poet Michael Gorman, who taught a summer course I was in four and half years ago at NUI Galway. He walked like him and wore a hat like him, so I yelled, “Mickey???” He snapped around, looked a bit frazzled, like perhaps he had enjoyed St. Patrick’s Day too much last night, and stared at me blankly. I didn’t expect him to remember me though I had had a quiet summer crush on him that was almost painful.  So I re-introduced myself, shook his hand, and he said, ‘Ah, yes! Beth!’ I’m not convinced he remembered, but it was nice to hear him say my name. The “h” doesn’t quite come out all the way. He said he was in a hurry to get the shopping done and something about a football match, but he wrote his number in my journal (“A Moleskine, I see!”) and told me to call him tomorrow for coffee. I won’t BE here for coffee and am sure he forgot as soon as he hurried off to fondle carrots, but boy if it didn’t make me feel good to bump into someone I knew here. Particularly him, still looking befuddled and artistic and cute.

In order to celebrate, I went to my favorite sweater shop and bought a new cardigan. The woman who owns it was back. In November when I’d visited, she had been out with a broken knee cap and her very charming son managed to sell my friend Isabella and me about 400 euros worth of woolens. So I asked after her knee, asked after her son, and then talked to her friend who now lives in Canada but is moving back. It was a perfect morning–making me feel, as I almost always do here, that I am HOME.

After I was warmed up by my sweater, I sat by the Corrib and watched it race towards Galway Bay. For lunch,  Fat Freddie’s for my favorite pizza. And then the Ninja Shopping commenced. Less bought than looked at, but two books, a notebook, some pens I like, and a birthday card for a kid’s birthday in June. Zipping in and out of shops on the aptly named Shop Street is invigorating in ways that shopping in the mall at home is not, though I don’t know why. My own romanticism, probably.

So, all in all, a very fine day indeed, and one on which I could reflect indefinitely about how the conundrum of feeling so home in a place so far from where I live. Instead though, I’m off to buy a few books at Charlie Byrnes Bookshop and then meet up with my cousins to find out how the Ireland-England rugby match went yesterday.

There is a hot whiskey in my near future.

Flashback Friday: Planning Ahead, Missing Out

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[This is a blog entry from the Girl Scout vault from early 2006. In case it seems I have an inconstant heart where Z is concerned,  he was home in Zimbabwe, not being my boyfriend.]

On any given day my lesson plans look something like this:

  • Discuss “Shrek” & intertextuality.
  • Do that bird exercise.
  • Have them write about that one article.

Right there, in a nut shell, is why I decided higher education was the place for me. If I taught in a high school, the administration would expect detailed, week-at-a-glance type lesson plans that spelled out exactly what I planned to do as well as the objective of the exercise. They want these, one assumes, so if you get hit by a garbage truck on the way to school, your class can continue without interruption.

I’ve never really wanted to be thought of as “easily replaceable,” so my lesson plans tend to be more along the lines of Post-It Notes stuck to the back of a recycled “Hello Kitty” folder. If I’m road kill, I want my students to flounder for a few weeks in memory of me.

I’m not a bad teacher–in fact, I think and annual reviews argue that I’m actually a good teacher. I know what I’m going to do. I know what the objective of the lesson is. But if I had to write it out, weeks in advance, it would no longer seem interesting or viable to me, so I’d have to think up a whole new set of things to do so I wouldn’t get bored. It’s more efficient in the long run to do Post-It Note planning on the drive to work.

Which brings me to my current dilemma.

Last week, a co-worker, poet, and friend, [that for our purposes I will now refer to as Belle, as in “the belle of Worcester, Mass” asked if I wanted to go with her to Ireland for Spring Break. She’s going to see her boyfriend. It’s a love story with a thirty-year interruption that I am particularly fond of, and Ireland has been a sort of surrogate boyfriend of mine over the last several years. In fact, the relationship is currently monogamous. Since I was just there in November for a week’s writing workshop with Hugo Hamilton, going again seems a bit extravagant. Also, I’m not sure if Belle really invited me or if I whined so much about going that she felt compelled to agree that I could tag along. Also, I’m not sure it’s ever a good idea to spend that much time with someone you are fond of but don’t know ALL that well. Also, I was raised with my mother’s axiom of “fish and company smell after three days.” So I’ve been torn. Mostly, I’ve been leaning towards doing the right thing–saving for a house I’ll never buy–and skipping the trip.

But then today another co-worker who just went to Dublin brought me a copy of Hugo Hamilton’s new memoir, which won’t be available in the U.S. until September, and I read the first two pages and I started longing for Ireland. Aching. Why would I NOT go to Ireland with Belle when I’ll have free lodging, will get to explore the southern bits of the country, a place I haven’t yet been. I rushed back to my office and checked Cheaptickets.com for the fare she’d mentioned to me. It wasn’t there. It had gone up $130, which pretty much pushed it out the range of do-able.

What a non-planning dumbass I am.

She stopped by and we talked about the trip I wouldn’t be taking. The things I could have done. (It turns out there’s more to do in Waterford than just the crystal factory tour.) We stretched ourselves over my Irish road map and speculated about places I could have seen.

She distracted me from my One True Love though by asking what the deal was Friday with the visiting writer, my two-day crush.

What deal?

He was flirting with you, she said.

He was? I knew I was flirting with _him_, but he was flirting with me?

Seemed like it to me, she said. He was mostly talking to you all night. He kept saying that thing about having you come down and taking you up in the chopper. I think he was flirting.

Here was me thinking my co-workers were embarrassed for me last week, flirting so pathetically with the famous writer, the author of one of the best 25 books of 2005. Here was me not knowing he was maybe flirting back. Oh, how I wished I’d have shaved my legs. Maybe I would have been bolder. Maybe, at the very least, I would have gone to Comfort Inn and pelted his windows with tiny chunks of Hoosier limestone.

There really is not any Hoosier limestone here. I said that to be poetic. I apologize.

It’s hard to live your life with no foresight. It gives you the opportunity to be spontaneous (there’s no plan to stick to), but without a plan sometimes you forget what your goals are. Fares go up, you miss a trip. Legs aren’t shaved, you miss, well, out.