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Wild Writing Women Magazine
Special Ireland Edition 2008
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What do you say when someone invites you to stay with them in a castle? If you are like the Wild Writing Women, you scream, “YES!” and then plan to pass through heaven and hell if that’s the route to get there.
The enticement came from our friend Maureen Wheeler, founder of Lonely Planet, who invited us to visit her homeland in Northern Ireland and stay with her in the west wing of Crom Castle, a grand County Fermanagh estate.
Like many Americans, five of the six WWW have Irish ancestry, and we looked at the trip as a pilgrimage to reconnect with that heritage. Most of us had been to Ireland before, and thought we knew what to expect. Ah, but that is the gift of travel, to provide you with the unexpected, and the gift of this trip was a shift in perspective on the Emerald Isle. We had begun researching ancient pagan cultures before our departure and, even though logistics forbade visiting many of the local sites our research had unearthed, discussion of their existence took root in us as we toured the country. The second step of our transformation occurred while we were staying at Crom; the locals learned that seven travel writers were “up at the castle,” and being neighborly, invited us to join them for their Summer Solstice rites on top of Knockninny Hill. A group of us went because we thought it sounded like a lark, but after hiking up the hill that night, we wound up being so fascinated by the experience that we all wanted to write about it. In fact a bit of a cat fight ensued over who had the right to write about this night of pagan rites. Being the editorial dominatrix and referee, I decided the only fair solution would be that we would all write about it—and so as is typical of this group, three of us have woven that evening into a very different story.
The Summer Solstice excursion went even further in influencing our thinking: during our latenight discussions around the fire at Crom we wound up shaping our theme for the magazine—from Pam’s research on ancient cultures to dancing with the Straw Men on Knockninny Hill to dragging our hands along the rough texture of the mysterious 2000-year-old Janus stone on Boa Island—we began to question the extremes of this green velvet land, this obsession with the sacred, which as Jung could tell you—is always mirrored by a dark side. We also saw plenty of evidence of the profane, from the lads in Dublin sporting shiners on Sunday morning to the concrete bunkers protecting the North country police stations from IRA bombs. All humans possess this polarity; it just seems that in the Irish the polar opposites carry a bigger bang. Somewhere in the midst of this contemplation, I began to wonder about the Irish obsession with the otherworldly and their journey from a pagan culture that worships nature to one of the most devoutly Catholic countries in the modern world. On top of these religions you have a pantheon of pixies, fairies and leprechauns, with their mix of magic and bedevilment. Then there is the afterlife. Apparently the place is crowded with dead souls, and the Irish have crafted the ghost story into an art form. At Crom we were like round-eyed school children, listening at the feet of the staff as they told tales of spirits at the castle, ghosts on the lake—poltergeists so powerful that they prevented the boats from
docking. We had pretty much convinced ourselves it was all blarney, until one of Jacqueline’s photos caught a strange white shape on the slate roof. And then there was Castle Leslie…. This ancient ancestral estate has just transformed itself into a world-class resort. Well, I should say universal-class resort, because their facilities include a landing pad for UFOs. When the chef told me this, I made him repeat it… slowly. This resort isn’t pursuing the jetset—how passé!—they’re so 21st century they’re catering to the extraterrestrial set. You can land your Lear jet at any old castle, but how many properties can accommodate your spacecraft? When I talk about the Irish passion for the otherworldly, I mean it in every sense of the word. Now, let me just pause here to address one issue. I know what you’re thinking: like a typical American, she is clueless that the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are not the same country. No, I used to frequent a San Francisco pub called Ireland’s 32 and I am well aware of the political divide. The “32” in this tavern’s moniker was a nationalist reference to the 32 counties of Ireland, six of which are now referred to as Northern Ireland and are part of the UK, and the remaining 26
counties make up the Republic. However, when visiting this island today, it seems as if the expats at Ireland’s 32 have gotten their wish: it is almost indistinguishable that these are two separate sovereignties. Crossing over the border feels more like going from California into Oregon. For us foreign travelers, the only real jolt comes when you slap your Euros on the bar at a pub in Northern Ireland and learn that British Pound Sterling is the legal tender. We saw more similarities than differences in the people of the North and South, the main one being their incredible mastery of language, their much-famed gift of gab and sharp wit. This was evident from the literary genius present at the Dublin Writers Festival to a conversation at the butcher shop in Enniskillen. In Northern Ireland all the Wild Writing Women were moved, hearing the stories of The Troubles, and relieved to see that these accounts have largely moved from the newspapers into the history books. From our perspective, we thought this region was one of the great undiscovered tourist locales in Europe. An unspoiled hill country of forests, lakes and seas, naturally blanketed in the green that gives the land the name Emerald Isle. The only real Trouble remains the weather, but the frequent rain provides all the excuse you need to sit by the fire and listen to stories— whether they be tales of the sacred or the profane. Cathleen Miller Editorial Dominatrix
This magazine is an interactive experience. Notice there are no page numbers. We want you to jump around, to follow your bliss, your interests, your sense of adventure. Just like when you travel.
We’ve taken advantage of the convergence of fine writing, art, multimedia and publishing technology to raise the bar to offer you a fabulous interactive experience. Sure, you can click through the whole magazine page-by-page, but we hope you enjoy jumping around, following your mood. Maybe you want to read the essays first, before the “prepare for your trip” section. We don’t blame you. They’re awfully entertaining, but then, so are many of the how-to pieces. Nearly all of the over-250 pages of this magazine include beautiful, full-color photos, and there are a fair number of sound and video files too, so that you can “experience” Ireland on your desktop. (At least the sight and sound aspects. You’ll have to taste, touch, and smell it when you get there!) As frequently happens with innovations, the idea to include “Audio Asides” grew spontaneously out of watching the group discuss the stories during the critique process. It occurred to me that we could include dissenting views, behindthe-scenes commentary, author readings, even field recordings as supplements to the written pieces. The rest of the Wild Writing Women—none of them the wallflower type—wholeheartedly embraced the concept. So much so that it turns out you’re getting a limerick and a couple of singalongs, too!
I can’t tell you what a treat it was to create this magazine, and my greatest hope is that this format creates more than the usual writer-to-reader relationship. Rather I hope it will create a shared experience between us—as if you were traveling the lanes of the Emerald Isle right alongside us. Enjoy the craic and I look forward to your comments. Who knows, we might just do this again. Sláinte! Carla King Design & Production Dominatrix
YOUR COMMENTS WELCOME!
PS: For those of you who must know, this magazine was created using the Adobe Creative Suite 3 products. It was laid-out in InDesign, with photos and design elements created or manipulated in Photoshop and/or Illustrator, and published using Acrobat Professional. Sound was recorded in the field using an iTalk recorder attached to a 30GB iPod Touch, and in the studio with a MacBook Pro laptop, Alesis Multimix USB mixer and Audio-Technica condenser mic. Audacity was the sound-editing program, and video was produced using Quicktime Pro. Photos not credited to the artist are in the creative commons domain sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
SPECIAL IRELAND ISSUE
Wild Writing Women: 2008
SACRED SITES PAGANS Cram a Whole Lot of Fun into the Shortest Night of the Year
Cathy Miller carries a torch for the Man O’Straw
The Cleansing Flames of MODERATED DEBAUCHERY
The WISHING Stone
Carla King on sex, drugs, and radical self-expression
Lisa Alpine tucks herself beneath a Hawthorne bush and wishes mightily
Suzanne LaFetra on when civilized people can’t find a way to work it out
SAINTS be with Us!
Jacqueline Harmon Butler and her personal saint
Getting the royal treatment in Northern Ireland
F E AT U R E S Cossetted at CROM CASTLE
Dick Mack’s: Salve for your sole and soul
SALVE for the SOLE in Dingle
COLUMNS Stick This in Your iPod
Celtic tunes for the journey
The Castle Leslie icon rocks on
Meet DISCO JACK
Miller to Go
Babies, beers, and salty dogs
Gear and Gadgets
Geeking out on sounds
Boxty: Why it’ll get you a man
R o a d s i d e AT T R AC T I O N S
The Sheelin Antique Lace Museum Tara’s Palace Avoca
Welcome to the doll house Shopping for your inner Grande Dame
What do Ursuline nuns, Venetian lace, and the potato famine have in common?
D u b l i n R E S TAU R A N T S
Dubliners were dubious about the revamping of a favorite landmark, but all for naught Upscale dining at the Dylan Hotel on oysters and rump roast and quail, oh my!
The most civilized place in Dublin to stick out your pinky
Eats that are worth braving a staunch mizzle
D u b l i n H OT E L S
Lay Lady Lay: A Night with Dylan
Hip, happening, and hot Argentine concierges
A sumptuous, five-star snooze in one of Dublin’s finest crash pads
An Inn at the Crossroads: The Fitzwilliam
Cover photo by Pamela Michael: Mummers gather on Knockninny Hill for a pagan ritual on Midsummer’s Eve.
Tr a v e l T I P S
Mizzle, drizzle, skeltering, soft: do you know the difference?
What Goes Around
A Wee Irish Dictionary
A stitch in time saves lives
Through the Looking Glass
Castle Leslie in the 1980s
Bloodwork on the Tracks
Honey, Leave Your Hat On
What to pack for the misty isle of Eire
A how-to guide for driving on the road less traveled
What happens when you don’t plan a trip?
Night Train to Limerick
Why Guinness is good for youse
Loosen that death grip on your cell phone
The Ongoing Battle between Metric and Imperial
How not to get caught in the crossfire
The Dublin Writers Festival
Drooling over the annual lit fest
Flying on the cheap with Ryan Air
The Winged Bus
UNICEF’s handy scheme for putting your pulas to good use
Change for Good
Links to Help You Get There
How to phone home, rent a car, find a pub, or book a month in a farmhouse
A wee guide to the best in film, literature, and music A wild dancing woman braves the scene
Irish Arts Roundup Salsa O’Dublin
Singin’ in the Irish Mist
Do you dare sing for foreigners?
Before You Go Sacred Sites Lifestyles of the Rich and Royal Columns Events & Excursions Reviews & Reports Contributors Resources
Wa n d e r i n g E y e
Dublin Horse Crazy Medieval Faire The Janus Stone Avoca Handweavers Parting Shot
before you go
A Wee Irish Dictionary
Gear & Gadgets
The Ongoing Battle Metric & Imperial
Phone Cards or Cell Phones?
Bloodwork on the Tracks
Tips for Driving on the Left
Ireland and the Arts
Hey Mister, can you spare a pula?
Getting in the Mood
Change for Good
Funky Chicken, anyone?
Honey Leave Your Hat On
What to Pack
Singin’ in the Irish Mist
Tips for successful chirping
Irish Travel Links
A Wee Irish Dictionary
by Cathleen Miller
Youse may think you speak the language but youse are going to need some help. Here’s a wee guide to the lingo.
Click to enjoy a 4-minute audio version of this piece by the author, Cathleen Miller.
Youse may think you speak the language when
visiting Ireland, but youse may need some help. We encountered some new hilarious expressions, and found more than one situation where we were in a muddle because of a lack of understanding—like when we were looking for the ferry to Devenish Island. Our buddy Noel had said it was by the “ lake.” We took that to mean a “tiny lake.” However, the locals in Northern Ireland use “wee” to mean “nice.” We got lost and missed the boat. So that you don’t, here’s a wee guide to the lingo.
No Hoper: the type
of guy youse are hoping your blind date isn’t.
Soft: as in, “it’s a soft day,”
means it’s not coming down yet, the air’s merely humid.
Mist: the humidity has
now condensed into actual moisture in the air.
Mizzle: in between a Mist and a… Drizzle: yes, finally now, the water is Rain: youse recognize this one. Skeltering: torrential rain that is
slanting sideways as youse run for the pub.
starting to fall in droplets on your wee head.
a small hill left by a glacier.
a rounded or conical heap of stones marking your grave before or after youse have drunk poteen with a no-hoper.
Youse: plural form of you, as in: Wee: something that is nice. Craic: a term for fun.
“We’ve fixed youse girls up with a couple of no-hopers for the evening. They’re bringing the poteen.”
So if a man says, “ You’re a wee lass,” and you’re self-conscious because you’ve put on a few pounds, no need to slap the sarcastic bastard.
(pronounced crack) Fun honed to a fever pitch, a type of hilarity whereby the biting local wit has been pickled in Guinness. The Irish say, “he’s good craic.”
& other pastimes
Poteen: Irish moonshine. Sláinte: an Irish toast meaning “cheers!”
(pronounced slawn-cha) (The Southern girls among us felt right at home.)
On the Road
Nagivator: an overzealous navigator.
This one Carla actually relayed—having been a gift to her from a North Carolina boyfriend. But constantly lost on the winding lanes of N1 it came in handy, due to the magpie environment of traveling with seven alpha-females in a van. We finally appointed the lone she-wolf in the front passenger slot as the nagivator, and everyone in back had to keep her mouth shut.
One of our favorite pastimes was stopping for directions, once the nagivator had waved the white flag. On one such occasion, trying to find the wee road out of Dublin, we stopped at a gas—I mean petrol—station for help. A lovely man gave us directions with such a sweet Irish accent that we all burst into sunny smiles; then he drew us a map; then he began filling it in with landmarks, then he pointed to one and for encouragement said: “ Youse’ll be laughing by the time you get there.” Finally he decided to get in his car and let us follow him over the drumlins, onto the wee road, which turned out to be the freeway to Fermanagh.
My personal favorite expression
was uttered up on the mountain at the Summer Solstice festival, by one of our hosts, Mr. Eugene Murphy, who met with derision the notion that he should share some of his precious whiskey with a thirsty supplicant. “Ha, ha, bloody ha.”
od blo a
Youse are now fully prepared for a wee trip to the Emerald Isle. Enjoy the craic, but remember to take your own whiskey. Sláinte!
Suzanne LaFetra advises on . . .
The Ongoing Battle Between
Metric and Imperial
of e?” s ter pleas ili s, l mil nnes 3 Gui “47
If it weren’t confusing enough driving on the wrong side of the road or tr ying to figure out if you need Euros or Pounds to spring for another round, in Ireland you can really get your mental k nickers in a twist because they use both the metric and imperial systems of measurement.
Officially, Ireland has gone metric. The Republic, because it’s part of the E.U., and the North because Britain is attempting to join everyone on earth (except the wildly advanced societies of Liberia, Myanmar and our own U.S. of A.) in adopting the metric system. But people are a wee bit sluggish when it comes to change, so most folks in Ireland will tell you their weight in stone. And on some roads, the distance signs are metric, but speed limits are posted in miles per hour. (Not that they actually say that, mind you, you’re just supposed to figure it out.) Oh yeah, and a British pint is 20% more than the Yank equivalent. Sláinte! What’s a travelin’ lass to do? Well, Lonely Planet has conveniently printed a conversion chart on the inside cover of your guidebook. And you can purchase tiny, unreadable-without-amicroscope cards that fit into a wallet. My cell phone has a calculator function. But while geeking out with your various conversion tools, you just might miss out on the conversation with Sean McGorgeous on the barstool next to you.
So here’s the unofficial Wild Writing Women Aw Hell, That’s Close Enough! Travel Metric Conversion Chart handy for approximating on the fly.
limit o er? eed Guinness in a lit the sp ts of What’s How many pin Can it rea lly be 11 deg r
ees in July ?
lle Enniski d to the roa n
A how-to guide to driving on the left
No! Your ! Left! No ks!> Left! e LEFT! <e OTHER
As one of the designated drivers on Wild Writing Women expeditions I felt cer tain I could handle a little road reversal in I reland, where they drive on the left. I attribute my amazing driving sk ills to luck brought to me by the $1 tip that Jack ie Stewar t, one of the greatest racecar drivers ever and three -time Formula One World Champion, gave me during my waitressing stint in Switzerland. A blessing of sor ts. I n fac t, I’m an exceptionally good driver, day or night— except for the minor handicap of being dyslexic, an issue that unexpec tedly reared its confusing, reversing head at ever y turn on the I rish roadways. Those lovely Wild Writing Women backseat drivers would say, quite civilly at first, “ Turn left at the light.” I would veer right without a clue that I was headed in the wrong direc tion. Problematic to say the least. H ysteria arose in a cacophony from the backseat, as they screamed in unison,
“RIGHT! RIGHT! RIGHT!”
Carla came up with a solution to my arising dyslexia and instruc ted the backseat drivers, “Shut up and just use hand signals.” We found that a graceful swoop of the hand toward the desired driving direc tion would produce successful results and a positive response from their confused chauffeur. Coincidentally, it was also about this time that Carla introduced the term “nagivator.” (See our dic tionar y for definition.)
Why the Irish drive on the lef t
About a quar ter of the world drives on the left, and the countries that do are mostly old British colonies. This strange quirk perplexes the rest of the world, but there is a per fec tly good reason. I n the past, almost ever ybody traveled on the left side of the road because that was the most sensible option for feudal, violent societies. Since most people are right-handed, swordsmen preferred to k eep to the left in order to have their right arm nearer to an opponent and their scabbard fur ther from him. Fur thermore, a right-handed person finds it easier to mount a horse from the left side of the horse. I t is safer to mount and dismount on the side of the road, rather than in the middle of traffic, so if one mounts on the left, then the horse should be ridden on the left side of the road. Mak es sense!
TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL ROAD REVERSAL
• • • • • • • • • Oncoming traffic comes from your right. The ditch is closest to the driver ’s side. The center line is closest to the passenger side. I f you’re turning right, you’re going to cross oncoming traffic. Look for traffic signs posted on the lef t side of the road. Travel clock wise in a roundabout. Draw a lef t arrow on your windshield, using a bar of soap. Ask your passengers to use hand signals. Guinness is great, but don’t drink and drive.
Driving on the lef t is right in . . .
Anguilla Antigua & Barbuda Australia Bahamas Bangladesh Barbados Bermuda Bhutan Bophuthatswana Botswana British Virgin Islands Brunei Cayman Islands Channel Islands Ciskei Cyprus Dominica Falkland Islands Fiji Grenada Guyana Hong Kong India Indonesia Ireland Jamaica Japan Kenya Lesotho Macau Malawi Malaysia Malta Mauritius Montserrat Mozambique Namibia Nepal New Zealand Pakistan Papua New Guinea St. Vincent & Grenadines Seychelles Sikkim Singapore Solomon Islands Somalia South Africa Sri Lanka St Kitts & Nevis St. Helena St. Lucia Surinam Swaziland Tanzania Thailand Tonga Trinidad & Tobago Uganda United Kingdom US Virgin Islands Venda Zambia Zimbabwe
RED = Drive on the right BLUE = Drive on the lef t
Bloodwork on the Tracks
Jacqueline doesn’t let the need for lab tests stop her from taking the Wild Writing Women trip to Ireland.
by Jacqueline Harmon Butler
I need to visit a lab every two weeks to make sure my blood-thinning drug is doing its job. So I either had to stay home or, if I was to join my Wild Writing Women group on our trip to Ireland, find a place that could run a blood test and send the results back to my doctor in the U.S.A. Much to my relief, Tourism Ireland gave me the address of a hospital in Dublin that could do the work. I grabbed a cab from my hotel, showed the staff my doctor’s request, got the lab work done, and had the results faxed to my doctor. It was that simple, and I never even received a bill. (Depending on the country, you may have the same experience in a public hospital. If you visit a pharmacy or private doctor, you may be charged for services.)
Don’t let the need for regular lab tests stop you from taking your dream trip. Here are some tips that will help you get your blood work done while overseas: 1. Obtain a written request from your doctor on company letterhead. 2. Ask your doctor to be explicit about the tests to be done and to list the results from the past couple of tests in the letter. 3. Before leaving home, contact the tourist office or even the consulate for the country you will be visiting. Ask them to recommend a hospital, lab, or pharmacy at your destination. 4. Record the name, address and phone number of the hospital or lab, along with your doctor’s letter, in your document wallet. 5. Ask the concierge at your hotel for the easiest way to get to the facility. You can also use google maps to get the directions ahead of time, and print them out. 6. Once you arrive at the hospital or lab, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’m glad I didn’t let my health problems keep me at home, vicariously experiencing our grand tour of Ireland through the Wild Writing Women’s online dispatches.
Honey, leave your hat on . . .
A travel advisory for packing for a trip to the Emerald Isle
by Ca t
To experience Eire properly youse’ll want to be tramping around the countryside, in which case youse’ll need to be prepared for the rain or else be prepared for the misery.
San Franciscans know the drill: dress in layers. That’s what I was told when I first moved to the City by the Bay, and—like most newcomers—was confounded by how to dress in a place where the temperature could range by 50 degrees during the course of a day. Likewise in Ireland. Many days the weather was cold and damp, in which case the solution comes in a word: wool. But underneath that wool it’s nice to have on a t-shirt just in case the sun comes out.
CATHY’S MUST-PACK LIST
Mud boots Lightweight rain parka Compact umbrella Wool sweater (the locals call it a jumper) T-shirts Wool cap Tights to wear with dresses and skirts Closed-toe flats Scarves (like Pashmina shawls) for color, warmth and to dress up an outfit
To experience Eire properly youse’ll want to be tramping around the countryside in which case youse’ll need to be prepared for the rain or else be prepared for the misery. A wool sweater covered by a waterproof jacket and a hat for your pointed head will do the trick. And as is usually the case, the wool flat cap is popular here for a reason: it’s warm, attractive, imminently packable, protects from the elements, and solves the bad-hair-day dilemma. Suzanne and I both arrived in Ireland via London, which at the time had an onerous one-bag-only carry-on policy; you could board with a purse or computer bag or briefcase or tote. Little old ladies were sobbing at check-in and I had my undies strewn all over the airport as I repacked. Security has since eased up, but double-check on these and other luggage requirements at your destination airport before you go. To make your trip successful, here are some items the Wild Writing Women wouldn’t head to Ireland without. —Cathleen Miller
Lisa must have: Clean hands
Jacqueline must have: A reliable wake-up call
Purell is an instant hand sanitizer that claims to kill “99.99% of most common germs that may cause illness in as little as 15 seconds.” Its active ingredient is ethyl alcohol (62%). You use it by wetting your hands thoroughly with the product, then briskly rubbing them together until dry. It takes just seconds. You can buy Purell in most markets and drug stores in the U.S. I keep a small bottle in my purse at all times (stored in the required Ziploc bag while going through airport security check points). I always use it before eating and several times a day while traveling.
I don’t like to rely on a hotel’s wake up service and since I often stay in guest houses and short-term rentals that usually do not provide bedside clocks, having an alarm clock that I know how to use is a must. I’m not all that savvy electronically so the more modern, digital, all-time-zones fancy stuff isn’t for me. I want a basic alarm clock that is super-easy to use. There’s nothing worse than being tired after a long flight or touring day and then fiddling with an alarm clock you can’t figure out!
Suzanne must have: A good read
So it’s 3 a.m. and you’re still whacked from jetlag. No problem—whip out Travelers’ Tales Ireland and slip into a brilliant collection of true stories. Of course you get a taste of Frank McCourt and Maeve Binchy, but you’ll also be led down the lane by some gifted storytellers, on topics ranging from dog ownership, gunrunning, fairies, to this memorable line from an even more memorable train trip to Tipperary: “Go ahead, Mr. Curtain. Jerk off to your heart’s content and the cows come home, moo moo moo. No one will die in the process.” The writing will keep you laughing in the wee hours, but you’ll also get a healthy, revealing dose of history, culture, art, music, and food. You won’t find maps to the best pubs in Belfast in this book, but the well-chosen stories in Travelers’ Tales Ireland can guide you straight to the heart and soul of the country.
Click the book to read Suzanne’s review of Irish Arts and get a full review of this and other great books about Ireland.
Pam must have: Magnification I never leave home—whether to Ireland or the end of the block—without a pocket monocular. A monocular is a small, low-powered telescope. Many monoculars are no larger than a lipstick, and will slip easily into a pocket or purse. You use a monocular as you would binoculars, but with one eye, like a telescope. I use mine dozens of times a month for birdwatching, reading the address on a house from the car, spotting wildlife, reading signs across a parking lot and much more. A monocular also doubles as a magnifier, which comes in especially handy when traveling for deciphering the tiny print on maps. (Is it just my aging eyes or are they making the print smaller?) On airplanes, I always book a window seat, if I can get one, just for the view of the world below it affords. On daylight flights, if the weather is right and you’re flying low enough, you can entertain yourself for hours scoping out the terrain below. When flying to Zimbabwe a couple of years ago, I was able to see almost the whole African continent from the air. With my scope, I was treated to an aerial safari of sorts, spotting caravans in the Sahara, migrating herds, volcano craters, and much more. You can get a decent monocular for under ten dollars or spend hundreds. There are lots of choices.
Carla must have: Security
I always recommend this handy little device that gives me peace of mind while I’m traveling or working in airports, restaurants, conference centers, and other public and even (supposedly) private places. The system combines a stainless steel cable with motion sensor technology and a 95-decibel alarm to create a combination lock that you can attach to the security key in your laptop (all laptops come with one). You can then loop the retractable cable around a table leg, a luggage cart . . . anything. There’s a motion sensor, too. I use it to secure my laptop, then loop it around the strap of my digital camera, my luggage, backpack, whatever, and confidently dine in a busy place, or leave it in my hotel room, or step out of a conference room for a minute without worrying about theft. When I reach my destination, I hang it on my hotel room door, or rope it around luggage stowed under a dorm bed, or attach it to my tent door, or set it on top of my motorcycle saddlebags. This little device is at the top of my “essentials” list, always.
Cathy must have: Pub-proof footwear
I must admit, I thought long and hard before I packed these boots. They are bulky, and I took them out of the suitcase a couple times, but finally found space by stuffing them with my socks. Good choice! As we rambled around the grounds at Crom Castle, hiked up Knockninny Hill, marched along the North Sea at Donegal—and even slogging around a flooded Dublin—my feet remained dry in my Blundstones. They are lightweight, making them a smart travel option, thoroughly waterproof, and may be indestructible. The style gives you that hip world traveler look, and yes, they are truly global: like all Blundstones, mine were made by a family-owned Australian company, I purchased them on 24th Street in San Francisco; and they journeyed another 5000 miles with me to ford many a beer-soaked Irish pub.
AS DI O
Salsa O’Dublin A wild dancing woman braves a strange scene
by Cathleen Miller
Click for a free download of Carlos Peluzza’s Nadie Detiene Mi Caminar, as featured in this Audio Aside.
Cathy experiences the international quirks of the Dublin dance scene.
Ditch your cell phone. Save money. Enjoy your journey.
BY LISA ALPINE
Loosen the death grip on your cell phone and enjoy your journey!
To take your cell phone or not to take it on your global expedition? That is the packing question … When traveling abroad I prefer a calling card to a cell phone. It is WAAAAAY cheaper and I don’t have to worry about losing it. Send me an email while I’m traveling. Maybe I’ll even respond—or not. Of course if the kids are still living at home or you are tethered to a business then you probably need to be porting that cell phone along in case of emergencies. I know it is hard to give up that constant communication connection and it will take a few days for your hand to lose the cell phone grip position, but go ahead—unplug. It is liberating and what else are voyages for but to shed our habitual behavior patterns and dependencies?
For over a decade I’ve been using my Enjoy Prepaid phone card while traveling. It has never let me down and rarely costs more than 3¢ a minute (we’re talking pennies) to call the United States from just about anywhere. Here are some tips on getting the most satisfaction with your calling card: Call from landlines to get the cheapest rate. There is usually a $1 fee for pay phones. Calling cell phones rather than landlines can also be more expensive per minute.
Do not sign up for auto recharge. I was furious when my calling card was auto-recharged at $49, which added another $50 to the account. Do you know how many minutes of call time from Ireland to the United States that is? For the plan I chose with Enjoy Prepaid it was 82 hours—not much time to explore the Emerald Isle if I yakked that much. You can check your balance online and add minutes if it is low without using the auto recharge option.
Another cheap calling option is Skype, an Internet telephone service. My son was recently traveling in New Zealand and Malaysia and called me from Internet cafes using Skype. The voice quality was decent, though at times his voice broke up and stretched into an odd monster growl as if the creature had toffee stuck in its throat, and then my son’s voice would reconstruct and sound normal again. It cost him 2.1 cents per minute to call my landline or cell phone, though if I was online and had used my free Skype account, the Skype-to-Skype calls would have been free. §
AUDIO ASIDE Pamela Michael takes her cell phone everywhere. Lisa, Suzanne, Jacqueline, Cathleen, and Carla also weigh in in on phone services, voicemail messages, and text messaging in this 4-minute Audio Aside.
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THE WINGED BUS
by Cathleen Miller
If the ultimate criteria for chosing an airline is Price! Price! Price! then Ryan Air is an ideal choice for a hop over the channel.
Let me just sum it up for you: this is not an airplane, this is a bus with wings
I have flown every type of commercial carrier ranging from Mexicana to Ethiopian Air, but I have never seen anything like this: hard vinyl seats, no seat back pockets and a screaming bargain-basement décor of lemon yellow and “royal” blue plastered by Ryan Air billboards on the overhead bins—lest you should think you’re on the Concorde. Unreliable departure times, no reserved seating, no free food or drink, not even water. So why would anybody fly this airline, you ask?
By the time I put my dainty butt on that hard vinyl seat, I was in no mood for the frosty charms of the two Slavic flight attendants, statuesque blondes with bad teeth and worse English.
It’s the price, hon. I have flown from Glasgow to Dublin for £2 and, yep that’s bus fare. I discovered Ryan Air in 2003 when I was bopping around Europe for seven months; the airline was a phenomenon that not only changed the concept of plane fare, it changed the way Europeans holiday, creating whole new tourist destinations where Ryan located their out-of-the-way (and therefore, cheap) terminals. When I accompanied the Wild Writing Women to Ireland last year, like most Americans I was aghast at the jump in airfare. There were no deals into Dublin, but after much research I found a good price on a flight to London and just assumed I’d do my old trick of flying into Gatwick (one of the few major airports Ryan services) and catching the Winged Bus to Dublin. This proved to be a very costly mistake. Like many a transcontinental flight, mine arrived a couple of hours late. Although I’d booked my Dublin flight with plenty of time to spare, now I was in danger of missing it. I was told I had passed the check-in time and so now would have to go on a later flight which would cost me an additional $100. Oh—and my bag was too heavy. My one carry-on sized suitcase. That would cost, too, and I would have to go stand in another line to pay for that and, if I didn’t get back quick, I’d be in danger of paying another fee for late check-in. By the time I put my dainty butt on that hard vinyl seat, I was in no mood for the frosty charms of the two Slavic flight attendants, statuesque blondes with bad teeth and worse English. They glided down the aisle, staring down from someplace
above oxygen level, refusing all confused requests. Finally the whole thing was so much like a scene from a sitcom that I began to laugh and cheered myself up.
Ryan Air is a great value if you’re bopping around Europe with nothing but a tote bag, a flexible schedule, and a thick skin. In fact, the value alone can make
such a trip possible. But it is not a reliable carrier for those making connections from an international flight and you’d better be prepared for all the surprise charges. § CLICK HERE TO VISIT
READ THEIR TERMS AND CONDITIONS C L O S E LY
B ook s, Movies, and Mus ic
Irish Arts Roundup
by Suzanne LaFetra
If a trip to the Emerald Isle isn’t in your immediate future, you can still get a taste of the place by checking out these flicks, good reads, and live music venues.
Bloody Sunday, direc ted by Paul Greengrass, 2002 Wak ing Ned Divine, direc ted by K irk Jones, 1998 The Field, direc ted by Jim Sheridan, 1991 The Secret of Roan Innish, direc ted by John Sayles, 1995 In the Name of the Father, direc ted by Jim Sheridan, 1993 The Snapper, direc ted by Stephen Frears, 1993 The Cr ying Game, direc ted by Neil Jordan, 1992 The Commitments, direc ted by Alan Park er, 1991 Ryan’s Daughter, direc ted by David Lean, 1970 The Dead, direc ted by John Huston, 1987 The Quiet Man, direc ted by John Ford, 1952 Going My Way, direc ted by Leo McCarey, 1944 Once, direc ted by John Carney, 2006
Search Amazon.com for DVD’s
When we are going through withdrawal between visits, we head to Ireland’s 32, a San Francisco bar whose name makes a political statement by adding the six counties of Nor thern Ireland to the 26 of the south. This establishment ’s been ser ving up great Guinness and live events ever y night of the week for a quar ter centur y. Ireland’s 32
click to visit website
2930 Gear y Blvd. (Near 3rd) San Francisco, CA
And in the East Bay, we head to the Starr y Plough for traditional Irish music, Celtic dancing, even poetr y. The Starr y Plough
click to visit website
3101 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, CA
Find an Irish Pub Near You
Dubliners by James Joyce (duh) The Butcher Boy by Patrick Mc Cabe Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle Rachel’s Holiday by Marian K eyes Gulliver ’s Travels by Jonathan Swift The Pic ture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde The Death of the Hear t by Elizabeth Bowen Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCour t Anything by travel writer Der vla Murphy Anything by William Butler Yeats Ireland: A Traveler ’s Literar y Companion edited by James McElroy And don’t forget Travelers Tales Ireland by our ver y own Bay Area gents, James O’Reilly, Larr y Habegger, and Sean O’Reilly
Click for more Irish Literature Click to find books on traveling in Ireland
Travelers’ Tales: Ireland
So it ’s 3am and you’re still wack ed from jetlag. No problem—whip out Travelers’ Tales I reland and slip into a brilliant collec tion of true stories. O f course you get a taste of Frank McCour t and Maeve Binchy, but you’ll also be led down the lane by some gifted stor ytellers, on topics ranging from dog ownership, gunrunning, and fairies, to this memorable line from an even more memorable train trip to Tipperar y : “Go ahead, Mr. Cur tain.
Jerk off to your hear t ’s content and the cows come home, moo moo moo. No one will die in the process.”
The writing will k eep you laughing in the wee hours, but you’ll also get a healthy, revealing dose of histor y, culture, ar t, music, and food. You won’t find maps to the best pubs in Belfast in this book , but the well- chosen stories in Travelers’ Tales Ireland can guide you straight to the hear t and soul of the countr y.
Read Tim O’Reilly ’s stor y, Walking the Kerr y Way
CLICK HERE TO BUY TRAVELERS TALES: IREL AND
Traveling with a Lonely Planet guidebook is lik e having an amusing, pithy, widely-read buddy in your back pock et. This literar y charm means it ’s not just a good guidebook , it ’s a good read. LP crams its books with useful, accurate, up -to - date information, of course. But they ’re also created by writers who ac tually know how to write, offering juic y tidbits on ever ything from why Yeats was irk ed by the addition of a wing of a Dublin museum to some clever deconstruc tionist theories on Joyce. O f course there’s all the stuff you’d expec t in a good guidebook : itineraries, maps, highlights, weather, and what to bring—but the LP writers do it with a k ind of tongue -in- cheek panache. Check out the tips for vegetarians: “Oh boy, you’re a long way from home now. I reland provides so few vegetarian options that your convic tions might be tested. …We trust vegans have brought pack ed lunches; I reland really won’t be your cup of black tea.”
Lonely Planet: Ireland
Ever y bit of k nowledge goes down easier with a healthy dose of humor and LP ’s writers generously dish up the chuck les, riffing on parliament, prices and St. Patrick . They even tak e a good-natured pok e at the monks: “Incidentally, Irish monks did have a solid reputation as hard drinkers. Monastic protocol limited monks to a mere gallon of ale a day. Another rule insisted that they be able to chant the Psalms clearly, so we might reasonably assume the monks managed to build up a sturdy tolerance in order to walk this fine line.” And, lik e any travel companion wor th her salt, LP isn’t afraid to just tell it lik e it is, even when it ain’t so rosy. “ Thankfully, the terrible irony of a countr y that expor ted economic migrants throughout its histor y now getting uppit y when others star t k nock ing on its door is not lost on a large por tion of the I rish population….” §
CLICK HERE TO BUY LONELY PL ANET: IREL AND
CLICK HERE FOR MORE LONELY PL ANET BOOKS ABOUT IREL AND
what goes around
The Skye in June
Evidently the Wild Writing Women are not the only ones to puzzle over the odd mix of Catholicism and Paganism, as attested to in this excerpt from The Skye in June, a novel by WWW acolyte, June Ahern. Here’s a short excerpt.
The Skye in June
The sisters continued to stare across to the head shop’s large window display of pot pipes, candles, incense, and hippie adornments. Also, there was occult paraphernalia like tarot cards and talismans. Religious statues of Our Lady sat next to idols of the Santeria and Voodoo religions. “The same stuff we use at Mass. Incense, candles, statues, flowers. All that stuff. Occult and Catholics, it’s like a big old magical mystery trip, man,” Mary laughed ironically. “The mystical part of Catholicism is what I’ve always liked about it. It’s the other stuff that got to me,” June said seriously. “Yeah, like don’t question anything,” Mary added. A self-proclaimed atheist, Mary would still pray a “Hail Mary” when feeling needy. June had often reminded her that praying to Our Lady and having faith that She would help was the mystical part of Catholicism. Still, she understood why Mary didn’t want to be a Catholic any longer. Like her sister, June was also irked by the memories of the Sister St. Pius, as well as Jimmy’s warnings whenever she committed some infraction. He would say things like, “God doesn’t like bad girls,” or “Good Catholic girls don’t behave like that.” Still she yearned for ritual in a spiritual practice to support her psychic gifts in a positive way. As little as she knew about it, witchcraft was fulfilling that need. “Yeah, I guess it’s true. Catholic girls can make good witches,” June admitted. “Of course you’d think that way, you heathen pagan,” Mary snickered teasingly. Click for more about June’s book, The Skye in June.
E DI O AS ID
Singin’ in the Irish Mist
Beyond the Bullfrog Song
by Lisa Alpine
Americans forced to sing in Poland, Ireland, and beyond. It’s a common torture. Listen, cringe, laugh, but learn in this 4-minute Audio Aside.
For the record: Creedence Clearwater Revival wrote Joy to the World, but Three Dog Night often gets the credit.
Change for Good
by Suzanne LaFetra
So you’re on your way home. You’ve settled into that roomy, spacious middle seat, plugged in your headphones, and you’re ready to fight an elbow war with the guy nex t to you in 17C all the way across the pond. Need a little ex tra room in your pockets?
The smart folks at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have a simple solution, and they’ve partnered with the airline industry in a program called Change For Good. You may have spent your last Euro on an overpriced airport snack, but you likely have a few leftover coins weighing you down. Rather than letting those foreign coins clink around on the bottom of your purse or clang around in your dryer or annoyingly migrate around your bureau top for the next few decades, lighten your load. If you reach into that all-too-close seat pocket in front of you, you’ll find a nifty little envelope into which you can drop your leftover Rupees or Pesos or Pulas (if you happen to have trekked through Botswana.) Use one of those twelve in-flight hours (say, between the second bad movie
and your rousing exercise program of ankle circles) to fish the spare change from your pockets. Flag down the friendly flight attendant who is trying to make your middleseat-in-coach experience a tad less grueling. Hand over the jingling UNICEF Change for Good envelope. Voilá, you have now helped to support health clinics and education for the world’s most impoverished kids. Since 1987 UNICEF has been doing travelers a little favor by gathering their unwanted
Not a bad return for a little spare change.
coins and putting them to good use. Smart business all around: UNICEF gets a captive audience to which it can deliver its message, the airline industry gets to showcase its commitment to social responsibility, and travelers get to feel good about giving back. Even that jerk in 17C with the hairy forearms gets a chance to be a nice guy.
If you are simply too busy with elbow wars or ankle circles to dig out your coins before landing, you can always mail those pulas to UNICEF after the jetlag subsides. And just what do all these tiny drops in the bucket add up to? The Change For Good campaign has collected a tidy sum for the world’s poorest children from our leftover coins: $70 million bucks.
Which is 377,000,000 pulas, in case you were wondering.
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U.S. Fund for UNICEF ATTN: Change for Good Program 125 Maiden Lane New York, NY 10038
Pagans Cram a Whole Lot of Fun into the Shortest Night of the Year
Saints be with Us! The Wishing Stone
The Cleansing Flames of Moderated Debauchery
The Janus Stone
Salve for the Sole in Dingle
Wild Writing Women sacred sites
Click to hear the author read a short segment of this essay.
cram a lot of fun into the shortest night of the year
by Cathleen Miller
was the last time you got to march down a mountain at midnight carrying a flaming torch? An honestto-god flaming torch, not some hollow plastic wand with an orange light bulb feebly glowing at the end.
There’s probably an ordinance against it
There’s probably an ordinance against flaming torches in your neighborhood—just as there is against dancing with an open container, wearing a straw costume while leaping a bonfire, bagpipe playing after dark—well, bagpipe playing at all. But in Northern Ireland we witnessed pagans perpetrating these reckless acts. And happily joined in.
Word had spread that a group of Wild Writing Women were staying at Crom Castle and an invitation arrived to celebrate the Midsummer Festival at the Aughakillymaude Community and Mummers’ Centre. We weren’t quite clear what a mummer was, but there would be an ancient pagan ritual and a bonfire up on Knockninny Hill. This we understood. We had eagerly anticipated the evening, but as rain skeltered down all afternoon—a local expression for a downpour blowing sideways—our enthusiasm dampened. However, I put on jeans, two sweaters, my Blunderstone boots, an ankle-length black raincoat and a wool flat cap I found in the boot room of the castle. I
This wearing o’ the straw goes back to the Iron Age, a tradition to celebrate the coronation of the high kings of Ulster.
stuffed my camera and notebook in one pocket, a flask of Bushmill’s Whiskey in the other, and declared myself ready for anything. When we arrived at the community center just before dusk, we learned that the mummers were a group of entertainers, somewhat similar to Christmas carolers, who go around the countryside performing various folk rituals. Tonight they were outfitted in costumes constructed from straw—cone shaped straw hoods, straw skirts, straw leggings, straw gaiters. This wearing o’ the straw goes back to the Iron Age, a tradition to celebrate the coronation of the high kings of Ulster. In a farming community, the straw symbolized fertility, and besides, the costumes were cheaply made—important for
a get-up that was made to be burned. To be called a “straw man” meant you had no property of consequence. As the townsfolk hiked up the mountain, a white-haired gentleman explained that the Catholic Church had appropriated the solstice holiday by joining it with the festival for St. John on June 23. “Are you a pagan or a Catholic?” I queried. “Both. You’ll find the Christianity here doesn’t go very deep.” As we struggled up the rocky path, he fell down and I asked if he was okay. “Yep, I’m made of rubber.” Some of the elderly and infirm piled aboard a tractor that chugged up the narrow trail ahead of us. One strapping man in his 50s ran to catch up. “Emergency! I’ve got the first aid!” He climbed aboard carrying a cooler, which I later learned was full of
At 11:00 pm it was still not dark.
beer. “Oh, I drove my tractor through your hangar last night!” he sang at full volume. At the summit we stood atop Knockninny Hill, which—dating back to 3000 B.C.—is actually a cairn, an ancient burial place marked by piles of stones. Around us lay the fertile green valleys of County Fermanagh, dotted by white specks of grazing livestock. The pastureland was parted by the glassy sapphire of Lough Erne, an enormous inland waterway that stretches 50 miles from Donegal to Cavan. The lake appeared like an illuminated sapphire because it mirrored the twilight sky, which in honor of the pagans, had cleared to a soft, humid blue as the first stars of evening made their debut. The bonfire blazed on the rocky soil, as Carla, Suzanne, Pam, and I milled around meeting the locals, curious to find out what would happen next. The medic, who looked a bit like James Coburn, disembarked from the tractor with his first aid cooler, and offered me a warm Heineken. “What’s your name?” I asked.
The bagpiper led the parade, and his caterwauling rang into the night air. The mummers marched round and round the bonfire, and as I watched their pointed hoods silhouetted against the flames, a chill went through me, as if I were back home in the South at a Ku Klux Klan meeting.
“Eugene Murphy.” Mr. Murphy had clearly gotten a jumpstart on celebrating the solstice, and as he watched me printing his moniker in my notebook, he asked nervously why I was putting down his name. I explained that I’m a writer. “Jesus,” his eyes widened. “The last time my name was in print I was in court.” I told him to relax and offered him a swig of whiskey. Off in the distance we could see the procession heading towards us, 20 straw men and women carrying flaming torches, their light glowing golden against the azure sky. So far north were we, that at 11 p.m. it was still not dark. The bagpiper led the parade, and his caterwauling rang into the night air. The mummers marched round and round the bonfire, and as I watched their pointed hoods silhouetted against the flames, a chill went through me, as if I were back home in the South at a Ku Klux Klan meeting.
One jolly gentleman, Sean McGuire, too drunk to stand, collapsed onto the rocks and began to play his banjo with the other musicians. “Let me see if I can find the key.” “It’s in your pocket!” cried Eugene.
The master of ceremonies shouted into the microphone of a portable p.a. system, his high-pitched tenor straining to deliver the meaning of the ceremony we witnessed. The mummers tossed in “sun rings,” loops of woven straw that symbolized the law of give and return. They burned their straw masks from previous years, they tossed corncobs into the fire, they broke bread and distributed it to the crowd. And then the emcee began to call the mummers by name, ordering them to jump over the fire—no minor request for a performer suited up in straw. When they had completed their portion of the program, other citizens—ranging from young girls to old men—sang, played the recorder, the banjo, the fiddle. I decided I would like nothing better than to have my gravesite visited by such a lively group each summer, and that these ancients buried in the cairn were no doubt grateful they had begat such successors here in Fermanagh, their progeny who still celebrated their culture’s age-old traditions thousands of years later. One jolly gentleman, Sean McGuire, too drunk to stand, collapsed onto the rocks and began to play his banjo with the other musicians. “Let me see if I can find the key.” “It’s in your pocket!” cried Eugene. Then he confided: “Nobody knows how much work we’ve put in here—and for precious little thanks I might add.”
n to me a elp turned “God h He pered, get rid of whis don’t me if I ger biscuits.” ese gin th
A thirsty supplicant approached him. “Eugene, give me a shot of your whiskey.” “Ha, ha, bloody ha. The only thing you’ve ever given me is abuse. However, I will give ye a ginger biscuit.” d
Sean, who was on verse number 400 of “Farewell, Fermanagh,” was improvising blithely. Carla and Suzanne were perched to his right and he sang: “There’s a couple of Yankees sitting on the rocks. They’re drinking my whiskey and don’t know when to stop….” The fire was dying down and fireworks fizzled and popped into the damp air until the maestro announced it was midnight and we would head down to the community center and continue the party there.
Click to listen to Sean and Eugene improvise a verse of Farewell, Fermanagh.
Flaming torches were handed ‘round to light the way. “Farewell, Fermanagh” continued with more doggerel, Sean picking his banjo down the mountain: “If you break your leg, remember, there’s no spares…and if you feel someone grab your ass, you’ll know Sean’s behind you.” At this warning I began to fly down the trail, my unbuttoned black raincoat billowing until someone said it looked like the cape of Dracula—a story conceived by Bram Stoker not too far away at Dublin Castle.
Back at the community center the fiddles cranked up; they were joined by an accordion, another banjo and, of course, the irrepressible Sean McGuire. I was reminded that American Bluegrass grew out of the traditional Celtic music played by my Irish ancestors. When the dancing began, Suzanne was yanked onto the floor, into a rousing performance of a jig called “Shoe the Donkey.” Our gal kept up admirably, her golden locks flying as her muddy boots pounded the floorboards. As the fiddles screeched, her dance instructor, Dessie O’Reilly, decided he’d choose a much thinner partner for his next number: a broom. He may have been in his 70s, but he moved like he was 17, jumping back and forth over the handle. A bar had opened up selling spirits, and several generations, from grandparents down to infants, continued to enjoy the party. I couldn’t help but stare at a particularly picturesque family of women, all with the same face and a Titian shade of red hair. When we left at 1:00 a.m. the frivolity showed no sign of slowing down. Eugene had just shared his poitín with me—Irish
moonshine—and as I reluctantly strolled out the door, I saw him holding Sean’s nose to encourage him to have a sip. I rode home in a euphoric haze, marveling at these Celtic pagans—who seemed very much in a world unto themselves—one where modern strictures had not strangled them with inhibitions, choking off their ability to sing, to dance, to tell absurd jokes and generally have a good time.
AND, I NOTI C E D, THE Y GE T TO C A R RY FL A M I NG TO RC HE S.
Wild Writing Women sacred sites
“What’s your most important memory [of Ireland]?” and he said, “How people who are so nice and lovely individually can be so disagreeable collectively.”
-- Desmond Fennell, A Connacht Journey
Tooling through the bucolic countryside of Northern Ireland, it’s tough for an outsider to imagine “The Troubles” that have shaken this part of the Emerald Isle until recently. Copper beech trees splay their dark purple leaves across rolling farmland dotted with black-faced sheep. The peaty, fiddle-filled pubs brim with friendly men in tweed caps and widebosomed women serving champ and foamy Guinness. This dichotomy is kind of like the way my marriage was going until recently. From the outside, all was verdant and peaceful—tender enough. My husband and I hosted dinner parties at which we’d make jokes and smile at each other. We didn’t smash dishes or use four-letter words. We even had sex once in a while. But last summer, I strolled through Ireland without a wedding band, so during my travels I understood this contradiction. County Fermanagh seemed so pastoral, what with all the lace-making and pint-pouring and cow-milking. But what appears to be wholesome and serene is only a few calendar pages away from the days of car bombs and gunrunning and Bloody Sundays.
My trip to Northern Ireland was a welcome relief from my American life, where I am right smack in the middle of a divorce. Most of my travel companions had been through it, and understood when I slunk off to brood. And I could sink into the culture of another place—a place where divorce wasn’t even legal a few years ago, by the way—and get lost in a foreign world. Each night, I settled under the downy comforter in my small room tucked into the West Wing of Crom Castle, listening to the skeltering rain outside, and reading stories about The Long War, the Famine, Ulster, the IRA, a history of conflict going back hundreds of years. “The Troubles,” as everyone in Ireland calls them, refers to a 30-year stretch of violence that ended only a short time ago with the signing of the Belfast Agreement of 1998.
A brief history: 400 years ago British settlers (mostly Protestants) confiscated land owned by native Catholics in Northern Ireland creating the Plantation of Ulster. The Brits banned the locals from owning land; they slashed political rights, and punished those who wouldn’t conform to the Anglican Church. Not surprisingly, the Catholics didn’t care for the shoddy treatment, and over time a nationalist movement grew. The Protestants, a minority in Catholic-dominated Ireland, tended to support continuing rule from Britain. Although the situation has become much more complicated and tangled over time, those are the roots of the problem. Fundamental differences in power, in beliefs. Irreconcilable differences, you might call them.
One bloody Friday, the bombs exploded
Another brief history: My husband and I got married a decade ago. I had a couple of babies, gained forty pounds. He got depressed and played computer games late into the night. I watched my infant son poke Lincoln Logs into a slot in a box and I cried from sheer boredom. We stopped talking about much other than our children, we stopped having sex. Everyone’s got issues, I thought. So I just numbed out to our troubles. Kind of like when your Honda is making weird revving noises and you fear the solution is the brand new tranny you can’t afford, so you just close the garage gently and pray it heals itself. In Ireland in the late 1960’s, things heated up. What began as a strategy of nonviolence got corrupted in misunderstanding. Both sides mistrusted the other; hard line unionists didn’t like the soft, civil disobedience approach, and others thought the tactics were simply a front for the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Protestant loyalists attacked civil rights demonstrators. Uprisings escalated, troops were sent in. And so it continued, each side throwing punches. The IRA sprouted an aggressive, militant wing known as the Provos. One Bloody Friday in 1972, 22 bombs exploded in Belfast.
My husband and I were on vacation in Oregon with my in-laws. In bed one night, I badgered him with Big Questions: What would you do if you had six months left to live? Do you believe in an afterlife? Then, “On a scale of one to ten, where are you on the Marriage Happiness Scale?” He paused. “I don’t want to play this game.” I elbowed him. “C’mon. Ten means you’re madly in love with me and one means you’re ready to walk out the door.” I grinned in the darkness, waiting for the eight, or maybe nine.
?” Honey “ .” . “ Four d e sighe H ?” .” “ Four? o know t wanted “ You ” our!?!? er. “ But f lled ov ro x.” He si “Okay, !” e.” y God “M uzann ,S r game u “ It’s yo
“Yeah, but that’s what you say when you’re done with a marriage! You can’t just drop a bomb like that!!” I huffed and puffed, and the next morning I blew out of my in-laws’ house and spent two solid hours sobbing and kicking at discarded sandcastles and staring out at the too-cold and not-at-all Pacific ocean. Four!
The British locked people up without trials. Prisoners died in hunger strikes. Ceasefires were called, then broken; paramilitaries on both sides imported arms. Bombs went off. Grenades were launched. More atrocities against civilians. Sinn Fein (the political arm of the IRA) predicted that the war would last another twenty years. Each new flare-up reinforced the old mistrust of both sides. Each new attempt to soothe and hammer out agreements was infiltrated with the remembrance of past hurts. More cease fires. More broken agreements. More polarization, more antagonism. President Clinton intervened to get both sides together again and talks began anew. My husband and I started to see a therapist. We practiced hugging. We used I statements to express our feelings. (Instead of “You cretin—why didn’t you take out the recycling?” I was trained to say, “I feel frustrated when you don’t do what we agreed.”) We made lists and charts of who would
take the trash out and who would pick up groceries. We went out on “dates” without the kids. We did all the right things, and our marriage looked better from the outside. At Christmas, he gave me a groovy pair of white boots. “He’s a keeper,” my mom told me. But when the party was over, I was seething with some unformed black cloud of anger, and resentful that once again, I had bought and wrapped all our children’s gifts, planned the menu, cooked all day, and entertained the kids for hours while he took a nap. We continued therapy, but didn’t discuss the big stuff: sex, money, power. I was too scared to admit that my husband and I were deeply, fundamentally different, as if we were coming from different religions. We couldn’t talk about what mattered. We couldn’t enjoy each other’s company. Little hurts brought up the larger, unresolved issues. We became trapped behind huge walls of resentment.
Our sex-life was as evasive as a four-leaf clover. I started to dread weekends— what on earth would we talk about? I spent my birthday in Mexico without him. He started seeing a woman, “just a friend,” and doing things with her I’d begged him for years to do with me. The ballet, museums, skiing. I fumed. Retaliated. Polarization deepened. The night before he moved out, we sat at the kitchen table and I poured us two shot glasses of tequila. We drank and talked. “It’s time,” he said, “I’ve known for eight years we shouldn’t be married.” I swallowed and felt the burn. With the signing of the Belfast Agreement (often called the Good Friday Agreement) The Troubles came to an end, politically speaking. But a few months later, a bomb went off in Omagh that killed 29 civilians, and it was the single worst incident during the Troubles. “After that, people decided they just had had enough,” Maureen, a Belfast native, tells me one night at Crom Castle. One of her best friends lost her legs in that explosion. It was a combination of the talks, the politics, and the cease fires, she told me, but ultimately, that inner shift had to take hold deep inside of people, so that they could move on and find a new way to get along. In Northern Ireland, the last decade has been relatively quiet. Mostly, people are on good behavior.
But I have not always chosen to be on my good behavior.
On the shortest night of the year in Fermanagh, I squatted in front of an enormous bonfire and sipped a stranger’s moonshine. Villagers clad in straw leaped across open flames, saying prayers of sacrifice and thanks. “It’s our way to give back,” the caller said into the blurry-sounding bullhorn. “To remember where we’ve come from.”
I remembered. Remembered what my husband said on our wedding day, and how he looked in the middle of the night holding our babies over his freckled shoulder. I remembered how hard we’d fought and cried and tried. Perched on the loose rocks of the cairn, I watched people performing an ancient ritual: of sacrifice, giving thanks, drinking up, letting go. My husband and I split up a year ago. People who know us say, “It’s so great the way you’re handling all this—both of you are being grown up about it.” And for the most part, they’re right. Our divorce is “amicable,” a term reserved, I’ve noticed, for notably unfriendly situations. These days, we both spend a lot of time and money on lawyers and divorce coaches and child specialists. We slog through parenting plans and house appraisals, and our high-priced helpers hold our hands as we wade through the swamp of emotional and financial issues, everything from deciding how “new people” will be introduced into our children’s lives to who will pay for college. Ireland’s troubles have reshaped its people. Underground ripples of violence, extortion, mistrust and fear still quake through the pastoral landscape from time to time. Not a single person I talked with in County Fermanagh is unscarred—all have stories to tell of uncles who’ve been maimed or a neighbor who lost their daughter or a school that was closed for two whole decades because keeping it open was simply inviting disaster. None of the people I spoke with openly took sides. Everyone just shook their heads and called it a shame. One town elder I talked with at that bonfire on the shortest night of the year said, “Too bad such civilized people couldn’t find a way to work it out.”
Amicable Civilized Collaborative
It is too bad when nice people can’t work it out. And sometimes partition is the answer, even if it’s painful. In Ireland, for the moment, no one is getting their legs blown off. The Orangemen still hold their parades in July and it royally ticks off the Unionists. The IRA still throws a below the belt punch now and then and everyone holds their breath. But the school in Fermanagh has been reopened. You can drive back and forth across the border and scarcely know it. Ireland has been the scene of an economic miracle: the Green Tiger. My soon-to-be ex-husband and I are trudging through a collaborative divorce, structuring Parenting Agreements, attempting to find a fair path through the jungle of finances. We are trying to move forward—without car bombs, without hunger strikes. I want to haul out a grenade launcher sometimes, like when he forgets to buy the kids a birthday present or allows them to watch The Twilight Zone while he naps. I don’t, though, because I know we have to peacefully coexist. But when I sit around a table full of lawyers and we carve up our children’s schedule, pore over Excel spreadsheets crammed with proposed budgets, hammer out the specifics of who gets to be with the kids Christmas Eve 2012, it fills me with a deep despair. Every slight, every unpleasantness unearths old hurts. Every document signed is an acknowledgement of pain and failure unresolved. These days, I understand why people say that a divorce is one of the hardest things you can go through. No, it isn’t getting your legs blown off. It isn’t famine or torture. It isn’t a war, but it is a long, protracted battle with someone you once loved. These days I understand more about how that flammable combination of loss, pain, and failure can drive nice people to do things that seem barbaric from the outside.
My trip to Ireland is a pleasant, fuzzy memory now. Back home in Berkeley, I’m settling into my divorced life. My ex-husband comes over to take the kids to school some mornings. I mostly smile and hold my tongue, even when I don’t feel like it, because the cease fire is in effect. Our lawyers are on deck, the kids are watching. It’s an uneasy peace. But even though we occasionally joke with each other, or laugh about a New Yorker cartoon, I’m different toward him, hardened. Like the buildings dotting County Fermanagh, so tricked out with steel walls and gun turrets they look like fortresses. “Do they still
need those?” I asked Maureen on my last day in Northern Ireland, as we sped by a police station nearly buried in razor wire, concrete barriers, and steel. She didn’t say yes or no. She, like
every single other person who talked with me about The Troubles, just shrugged in a sad way, having developed their own armor against the pain. §
Wild Writing Women Sacred Sites
by Lisa Alpine
Wishing stones are not wishy-washy . . .
One blustery night at dinner, we asked Violet, the housekeeper at Crom Castle, about sacred sites. “Ye must go to the Wishing Stone right here on the castle grounds by the lake. Me son, Noel here, will show ye. Ye need to sit on the stone without touching the earth around it—every part of yer body on top without a limb on the dirt.” Like all the natives, her thick Irish accent slathered around her words, adding a rich coating to the language—velvety as dairy cream on an Irish Coffee, or as smooth and blankety as the dense foam on the head of a pint of Guinness. Those accents wrap around the stories the Irish love to lavish on visitors, stories and stories and stories that pile up like strawberries on trifle. Violet told us of the bones still jutting out of the rocky beaches at County Donegal. “Ye must go see the coast just a wee drive to the west,” she said. “During the famine they’d walk for days to be reaching the shore, where the boats were sailing to America— only to die right there on the beach of hunger.” Her deliciously dense brogue unfurled the story of Ireland’s tragic past, an ironic tale of starvation told as she lay plates heaped with boiled potatoes, roast lamb, and aromatic mint sauce onto the well polished trestle table.
Hawthorn branches pricked my head like a crown of thorns
But our minds were still on the Wishing Stone and I asked, “Violet, have you ever made a wish on the stone?” “No deary. I have everything I want.”
Well, we didn’t feel that way, being ambitious American alpha females and all, so we hustled right over there with Noel in the mid-summer twilight.
Noel, who was raised at Crom, as were his ancestors, is now the manager at the castle. As he cautiously held down the electric wire fence for us to step over, I asked, “Have you sat on the wishing stone?” He responded emphatically, “Oh yes, indeed, many a time and the wishes always came true.”
We each took a turn, folding ourselves onto the footsquare dome of lichen-pocked granite. In silence, with eyes closed, hawthorn branches pricking our heads like a crown of thorns, we wished mightily.
That stone works!
Less than 24 hours from my sitting session, my wish was answered in a way I would have never expected. It was a doozy and inspired a daily pilgrimage. When I shared my surprise results and daily visits with Noel, he exclaimed with characteristic Irish wit, “By gosh, I’ll have to build a little hut over that stone so youse won’t get soaked in the mist.” §
Click to hear Lisa talk about her first encounter with the Wishing Stone.
Wild Writing Women Sacred Sites
Click to hear the author read a short segment of this essay.
The Cleansing Flames of MODERATED DEBAUCHERY
by Carla King
I take a swig from the whisky bottle and pass it to the man next to me, reflecting that the last time I
stood in front of a bonfire in the middle of the night sharing mindaltering substances with strangers I stood in a cold, dusty desert in the American West surrounded by hundreds of fluorescently-clothed humans over-excited by drugs and alcohol and the shared experience of burning down a very large neon-encrusted wooden man the size of a small skyscraper that exploded with fireworks and tumbled in flames to the dry, cracked earth.
The smaller children, blinded by their masks, turn the wrong way and bump into their more graceful elders who gently guide them in the correct direction. By the time the whisky bottle comes around again the villagers are leaping into the embers, over them, across them, daring the sparks to catch their costumes aflame.
CLICK IMAGE TO PLAY MOVIE
Standing on this cairn in the British Isles, my blood is warmed by the whisky and a simmering of recognition. Admittedly,
the Celts have made generous contributions to my DNA over the centuries, so perhaps that is why everything seems so eerily familiar: the soggy ground, the voice of the man singing to the fiddler’s tune, the strawclad dancers, the embers now dying down and the feeling of cleansing and fertility. Anything could happen now, or tomorrow. Midnight approaches and I am conflicted as to whether to jump across the embers or just stand there transfixed by the glow, or kiss the man next to me, or do cartwheels down the hill, or lie down flat in the dirt and stare up at the stars. I have done all this and more at the Burning Man festival, which has been compared to the Wicker Man ritual of human sacrifice practiced by Celtic pagans from these islands, but in fact is not related to this or any other such ritual, says founder Larry Harvey, who claims to have simply been motivated to burn an effigy as “an act of radical selfexpression.”
One can’t help but wonder how many individual acts of radical self-expression have included fire and dancing and sex and drugs and music over the years, and happily caught on as an officially recognized pagan ritual. But since when does anybody need an excuse to burn off some energy? Wednesday is designated “Hump Day” in the working world from San Francisco to Belfast, and in Dublin town—eons away from the cairn where I now stand—Saturday nights are designated abandonments from the restrictions of the workday as evidenced by the bandaged knuckles and bruised cheekbones of half the young men walking to church on Sunday morning.
Circle the Maypole, circle the flames Then run off and do what you will
But back to Burning Man—what is it then? It is Wicker Man and Beltane and Samhain, it is the Maypole and Christmas and All Hallows Eve. It is polytheistic—choose your gods and goddesses, pass around the whisky bottle, or whatever mind-altering substance that comes your way, circle the flames and then run off and do what you will. We humans seem to need to get wild and perhaps anonymous and break the social mores of the society in which we normally live. Practically speaking, Beltane has been said to be an opportunity to temporarily put aside marriage vows in favor of desire, but sexual licentiousness also may have served to ensure fertility among nonfertile couples, not to mention genetic variety. Psychologically speaking, the ways that religion and associated rituals serve people and society are more complex. Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry Steven Reiss determined 16 basic human psychological
Psychedelic lint on the grand great earth.
desires that motivate people to seek meaning through religion: power, independence, curiosity, acceptance, order, saving, honor, idealism, social contact, family, status, vengeance, romance, eating, physical exercise, and tranquility. Of course, each of us has these motivations in different doses.
One year at Burning Man I spurned alcohol in favor of a psychotropic cactus that made the hundreds of fluorescently-clothed creatures frolicking in the desert look very small and fuzzy, inconsequential, yet irritating, like psychedelic lint on the grand great earth.
Fires dotted the desert for as far as I could see, and the moon was full and bright. The peyote created an environment that provided the ideal antithesis to a life lived in the highly organized city of San Francisco. I needed a ground connection, some tribal society, and a heavily naturebound ritual, and so I latched onto some Native Americans, their faces smeared with ash and charcoal, drumming and dancing around a pile of flaming jetsam while chanting ancient mantras in deep voices. I circled
The earth felt solid, the sky reliably fastened to it.
the flames with them and, as long as I didn’t look up at the bright fuzzy lint, the earth felt solid and the sky reliably fastened to it. And for months I felt I could survive until the next excuse to misbehave. I don’t know if it’s the Celtic DNA singing in my veins or if it’s the effect of the whisky but standing on the cairn with the blazing fire and the Irish landscape still lit by the midsummer sun below my feet, lakes and greenery and clouds in dark blue sky, I know that this thing we’re doing here is the real deal, pure and purposeful and heartfelt and joyous. Suddenly the earth feels wobbly and the sky is a melt of clouds and stars. I stand stunned, on the brink of fainting or running off screaming into the dark, but a man with a flaming torch takes my arm to guide me down the muddy road back to the mummers’ hall where music and dancing is promised. I look for my friends and find them similarly led. That is, all but Cathy, who struts confidently down the muddy road with a flaming torch in her hand. The whole village slips down the hill, laughing riotously. I couldn’t keep up but for the man at my elbow. Finally, we reach the mummers’ center where a bar is set up over a laundry tub, the old folks are dancing, and the teenaged accordion player is text messaging between tunes. Suzanne is dragged onto the dance floor and proves her grace
by gamely following an impossible jig, her long blonde tresses streaming around her as a nimble, elderly gentleman flings her expertly across the rough wooden floor. The room roars with appreciation, and so that I am not chosen for the next dance I flee outdoors where some men stand smoking and some girls in a cluster whisper secrets, and still the sky is indigo blue with the stars poking through and a lake glimmers in the near distance. It’s early in the morning when I drive our group the ten miles back to our beds, not without getting lost in a endless maze of single-lane country roads. We sing sixties folk tunes to stay alert and then everyone is quiet as the headlights illuminate a tunnel of greenery that magically envelops the road. There’s time to recall the silent treks in hiking boots back to the tent at Burning Man at sunup. I reflect that fire can be cleansing, and it’s good to cling to the feeling of anything-can-happen as long as you can. It’s not often that one has the opportunity to join the sort of organized misbehavior that is encouraged during the multicultural, disorganized abandonment of Burning Man or on a midsummer hilltop. However large or small, I appreciate the chance and silently congratulate the mummers for keeping these folk traditions alive. Someone told me up on the cairn that they’d only recently revived it after the great distraction of “The Troubles.” A much better alternative to bombing one another, I said to myself as another straw-clad villager leapt through the fire. And then another whisky bottle came around. §
the janus stone
ga l l e r y
by Carla King
A M YS T E RY In Caldragh cemetery on an island in Northern Ireland and protected only by a rusty gate and a flimsy shade structure, the Janus stone looks both east and west with its two faces. The “Lusty Man” stone sits nearby, moved here from its home on Lustymore Island in 1939.
boa island the janus stone
Sacred or profane? The enigmatic Janus Stone is rumored to be a Celtic idol, maybe 1000 years old. One side appears to be a feminine figure, while the other is unmistakably masculine.
boa island the janus stone
The story of these Iron-Age, pre-Christian, two-faced Celtic idols will probably forever remain a mystery.
boa island the janus stone
Click image to play video. (You must be connected to the Internet.) The hands were broken away and now sit on their own next to the figure.
boa island the janus stone
Old gravestones crumble and gather moss, crowding the way to the edges where new stones memorialize those more recently remembered.
Wild Writing Women sacred sites
Saints Be with Us!
The ups and downs of having your own personal saint
by Jacqueline Harmon Butler
St. Patrick was a thread in the larger fabric of religion that swaddled my childhood.
The sound of organ music greeted us as my sister Patty and I entered Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. We shook out our wet umbrellas and placed them in the corner, reverently, for this was said to be the earliest Christian site in Ireland. During my first trip to the Eire back in 1978, I admit to being a bit wide-eyed at everything I saw for many reasons; not least because our most ancient buildings in California are a scant 300 years old, but because I had been “encircled” by St. Patrick from an early age. I attended Saint Patrick’s Elementary School and Saint Patrick’s Church, where I made my first communion and confirmation. Later I would give my son “Patrick” as a middle name. And then there is my sister Patricia, to add even more “Patrickism” to my life. Saint Patrick and I had a connection; he was a thread in the larger fabric of religion that swaddled my childhood. So here I was, standing on the hallowed ground. Overwhelmed by the spirit of the place, I wasn’t quite ready to enter the nave where a dozen people were scattered around the main altar praying. So I grounded myself by picking up some literature at the bookshop and learned that a church had stood on this site since the fifth century. It seems the original building was just a wooden chapel until 1192 when Archbishop John Comyn ordered a cathedral to be built in stone. Much of the present edifice was constructed in the 13th century, and today it remains the largest church in Ireland.
When my sister and I arrived at Saint Patrick’s the choir was rehearsing for services that would be held later in the day. The organ filled the church with passion and power and the singers sounded like angels. These vocal groups are part of the cathedral’s long history, with the Choir School founded in 1432. Its members took part in the very first performance of Handel’s Messiah! (The original score is on display in the cathedral.) As we sat listening, my eyes filled with tears at the beauty surrounding me in the centuries-old church. Wandering around the building, Patty and I discovered a very ancient-looking stone with a timeworn Celtic cross carved on it. A printed description claimed that, in 1901, during the
demolition of nearby buildings to form the park beside the cathedral, workers unearthed this perfectly preserved slab bearing a Celtic cross, which was covering a well. It is thought that it may have marked the site of the former holy well, where Saint Patrick is reputed to have baptized converts from paganism to Christianity around 450 A.D. I realized the longevity of this saint’s influence, and I was reminded again of the years of connection between me and Saint Patrick. Growing up Catholic was full of magic and mystery for me. My grandmother had a framed painting of Jesus with his hands holding his Sacred Heart. Those sad eyes stared out at me every time I passed by the picture. It gave me the creeps, actually. I had been impressed
Those sad eyes stared out at me every time I passed the picture. It gave me the creeps, actually.
by stories of crying statues of the Madonna and paintings of her that shed tears and other mystical events. I used to pray that Grandma’s painting of Jesus wouldn’t start crying or sprout apparitions like Mary who appeared to Bernadette at Lourdes. My paternal grandfather was Irish and so I guess it was easy for me to believe in mystical experiences and legendary Irish folklore, like leprechauns and pots of gold—and the best one about Saint Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. Perhaps it’s in my blood; my mother always told me I had the gift of blarney because I spun many a tall tale.
“Patrickism” continued at Saint Patrick’s school, where Father Patrick Flannigan taught us about the Catholic sacraments and always seemed to have a joke or two to tell us. I loved his Irish accent and the way his eyes sparkled when he laughed over his own jokes. However, the whole class quaked when Father Murphy came thundering in. He threatened us with hell and damnation if we weren’t good children, studying our catechism and memorizing our prayers. I remember sinking down in my chair, hoping he wouldn’t notice me and ask me a question I couldn’t answer.
Father Flanagan’s eyes twinkled when he told a joke, but Father Murphy threatened us with hell and damnation if we weren’t good children.
The Saint Patrick’s Church of my youth was old and the kneelers didn’t have any padding, so I spent much of my childhood with bruises on my knees. The bruises made me feel extra holy. From my earliest years, I thought of Saint Patrick as my personal saint. I liked seeing the statue of him all dressed up in the green and gold robes of a bishop. During Lent he and all the other statues were draped in black, which gave the church a very scary and sinister atmosphere. Father Murphy told us that this was so we would focus on the passion of Christ, rather than enjoy the beauty of the art. But I always worried that behind those black drapes the saints were hiding their tears. Ultimately, I transferred to public school and began to drift away from the Church, although I still attended mass on Sunday and holy days and Saint Patrick continued to be my soulmate, advisor, and friend.
In Dublin, many years later, walking through the gardens surrounding his ancient cathedral, I thrilled to the thought that I was walking where Saint Patrick had once trod. The lush Irish grass smelled sweet beneath my feet and a bird singing in a nearby tree seemed to be accompanying the choir. I sat down on a weathered wooden bench and felt my body relaxing as I closed my eyes, enjoying the music. A vision of Saint Patrick appeared before me, looking as he always had: dressed in his green and gold, complete with conical hat and smiling at me. Saints be with us!
Saint Patrick died in 461 AD, and is believed to be buried at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down. No one can be certain of the exact spot of his burial, but a memorial stone of granite from the nearby Mourne Mountains marks what is thought to be his grave. I have returned to Ireland several times over the years and in 2002 I made a pilgrimage to the burial site. I must say I really did feel a special energy there. The sky that day was a pale shade of blue and puffy clouds sailed by slowly. Wild daffodils were scattered across the lush green landscape. I felt right at home sitting at the grave with the sun warming my back,
thinking about the saint that had been one of the most important spiritual companions throughout my life. Patrick has seen me through many challenges and transitions. I have always felt very possessive about him, as if he were uniquely my own. The grave site was very calming; it was as if I could actually feel the warmth of the saint embracing me. I came away from the cemetery with a sense of peace and love—just what you would hope for from your own personal saint. §
lifestyles rich and royal
Crom Castle Medieval Faire Castle Leslie Horse Crazy! Tara’s Palace Avoca Dublin at Malahide Castle
Arts & crafts for the aristocracy
Wild Writing Women feature
by Lisa Alpine
The road snaked around the hillock and we all exhaled at once when the castle, in all its grand proportions, spires, and arches, was revealed backdropped against a misty lough. Oh my God! echoed in unison from the women in the back seat.
Courtesy Crom Estate
Guess who’d been sleeping in one of the Wild Writing Women’s beds? No, not Goldie Locks…
Our hosts at Crom Castle, Lord and Lady Erne, just happen to be buddies with the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cromwell.
So Charles and Camilla slept in one of the sumptuous four poster beds just a few months before the WWW arrived for our week long stay last June. No doubt the couple enjoyed their getaway in The Buff Room, a particularly elegant guest accommodation with fireplace and all. Odd name, though. Naturally, the secret door in the wall that separates the main castle from the West Wing was left open for The Royals so they could just pop on over to the Lord’s for drinks or tea. We, the Wild Writing Women, on the other hand, did not know about the secret entrance until one day, after a phone call from Harry (Lord Erne’s first name) inviting us to visit him and Anna, his wife, for drinks. We gussied up and waited where he told us to—in the stairwell on the second floor of the West Wing. Odd, again.
A creaking sound of wood moving against stiff carpet drew our attention to the wall—it was moving! Just a crack at first, but then the door swung open and there stood
the Lord and Lady of the manor with smiles and handshakes ushering us into their private castle. It was a world of grand dark wood staircases, monolithic family portraits, and champagne flutes filled with French bubbly.
-----------------------------------------------Crom Estate, in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, has been the residence and the historic seat of the Earls of Erne for over 350 years. Our host was the 6th Earl of Erne. In the stunningly large living room with views over the lawns to the lake, open-armed oaks and herds of fallow deer created a moving diorama, and photos of queens and other familiar faces dotted the interior landscape. (People Magazine was my reference point for the who’s who.) On the Steinway piano, polished to an ebony gleam, were several photographs of a divinely elegant young woman—think Jackie O. It was Lady Erne, fresh from Sweden when she worked at the Ford Modeling Agency in Manhattan. She was one of their top models before becoming a Lady in a castle. Need I say, a fairytale come true? Lady Erne engaged all of us in stories of travel and writing. Her husband has published a children’s book and we exchanged autographed copies of our various books including Wild Writing Women: Stories of World Travel. They were quite intrigued with Carla’s motorcycle misadventures in her book, American Borders. He and Lady Erne read it to each other after retiring and had many questions for Carla the next morning, when the secret door opened yet again. They were all atwitter over a scene in the first chapter where she describes frolicking naked through the woods in the rain in Southern France with a newfound lover. “Just riveting!” gushed Harry. The castle grounds
Cathy remembers our evening with the Lord and Lady of the caste.
Lord Earne in his study So how did we end up in this glorious castle in Northern Ireland? Maureen Wheeler, co-founder of Lonely Planet Travel Guides and an honorary member of our posse, was born and raised in Belfast. She knew of Crom, and suggested we hold our bi-annual Wild Writing Women gathering at the castle.
Invited to stay at a castle? Who could say no? The idea seemed just right.
From Dublin we drove a few hours and crossed into Northern Ireland, all the while avoiding the tendency to veer over to the right side of the road. Screams from the other Wild Writing Women sitting in the backseat were quite helpful in keeping Carla and me focused while driving country lanes, barely the width of a fat cow, toward our fantasy destination. Where the ghost hangs out We knew we were close when the castle ramparts peaked over a rolling emerald hill. The road snaked around the hillock and we all exhaled at once when the full monty in all its grand proportions, spires and arches, was revealed, back-dropped against a misty lough. Oh my God! echoed in unison from the women in the backseat. For the entire week, the Oh My God! reactions continued to Crom Castle’s neo-Tudor turrets and crenellated towers stretching into the sky. You just don’t adapt that quickly to living in a castle. It’s different than a hotel, we realized. We had the entire West Wing to ourselves. Well, except for that ghost.
Jacqueline Harmon Butler
“Are any of them haunted?” we asked Noel Johnston, the manager, when he gave us a tour of the elegant, high ceilinged rooms. They seemed perfect quarters for spirits. He hesitated, chuckled and then, “Oh, there’ve been stories…” He led us to The Rose Room all the way at the end of the hall. Large petaled, sherbet colored roses spilled all over the wallpaper, the bedspreads, and the curtains. High ceilings, a fireplace, oodles of porcelain objet and a bathtub you could drown in. After I dubbed the room as mine, THEN Noel piped in, “Some folks do indeed see a lady float through these walls.” I had my antennae out the first night, eyeing any mischievous movements or shadows crossing walls. But not a hair rose on my arms and I slept uninterrupted. Perhaps the effect of the weighty down comforter and walls as thick as a fortress kept intruders at bay. I slept blanketed in the history of solitude in the stillness of the Irish countryside.
Suzanne takes the helm
Morning began officially with the filling of the teapot after which we would slowly meander groggy-eyed into the Victorian Conservatory to write. The immense glassed-in structure towered above us like a crystal cathedral. We’d plug in our laptops—a real juxtaposition in this setting, and write, each of us in silence, for several hours and before a break for a yoga stretch. The biggest downfall of being a writer—other than the pay scale—is sitting on our posteriors far too much. We combated the sitting with a series of highly un-Victorian poses: legs spread wide, derrieres to the sky, various gyrations. At one point, all the Wild Writing Women were bent over, reaching for our ankles, when I heard a scuffling sound. It was Noel, edging backward out the door. “Me thought you women were writers, not gymnasts.” We all laughed when he added, “Do youse do this every morning? Very interestin’. I’ll keep an eye out for youse next meetin’!” One day I decided I felt slightly feverish and needed to retire to my room with tea and books. Really just an excuse to soak up the “rose” factor and the delight of having the castle all to myself for an entire day. The rest of the Wild Writing Women went on an excursion. I wandered the stairways in my bathrobe. I luxuriated in that tub which was so deep that I needed to prop myself up in order to keep my book from going under. The spaciousness, the time, the solitude, the luxury—I felt like an eccentric Royal myself. Castles do that to you. The old castle from the water
“There is no place that conjures up in my mind more Irish romance than the wide and fair domains of Crom.” John Ynyr Burges of County Tyrone, wrote this in his diary when he was a guest at the castle in 1863.
1900 acres and one of Europes longest inland waterways
Ol’ John got it right. A romantic castle within a parkland of some 1,900 acres, Crom is surrounded by the glistening waters of Lough Erne, which forms one of the longest inland waterways in Europe. The lake is dotted with a myriad of mysterious islands, many visible from the castle windows. Crichton Tower on Gad Island is a stone folly built in1847, appearing to float not far offshore and beckoning us to visit in the motorboat. Grebes call from the water grasses, swans hypnotically weave their graceful dance around the edges of the island and herons break free from their tangled root perches to take flight on huge flapping wings of gunpowder blue. Crom is home to the largest heron rookery in Ireland. Truly a living postcard. Built in the 1830s for the Third Earl of Erne, after the original castle was destroyed by fire, Crom Castle was designed by the English Architect Edward Blore, best known for his work on Buckingham Palace. The suggestively haunting ruins of the original castle Suzanne, Carla, and Lisa take a yoga break in the atrium
Jacqueline Harmon Butler
lie on the shore of the lake. It survived two bloody Jacobite sieges before it burned down. Two immense yew trees, one male and one female, guard the entrance to the old castle grounds. They have formed a citadel of intertwining branches. Over 800 years old, they are reputed to be the oldest trees in Ireland. Legend says that it was underneath this canopy that Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone and leader of the Irish struggle against English domination, kissed his lady love goodbye in 1607 before taking a ship from Ireland into exile, never to return.
Leprechauns played tricks on our sense of direction
After a few days of drizzly walks, long writing sessions and teatime by the fireplace, jetlag eased and we got curious about our surroundings. Maps came out. Excursions were planned. But the leprechauns seemed to play tricks on our sense of direction. Winding country roads, mysterious turn offs, unposted destinations. We saw many things we never planned to see. Maybe that ghost had gotten into the car?
Exploring the old castle
Returning from one of our misadventures, Violet the housekeeper (mother of our guide Noel and his sister, Cynthia) fortified us with hearty Irish dinners. Think potatoes (the anchor of all Irish meals) along with lamb and mint sauce. Every plate includes a russet. At first there was a collective rolling of eyes when the spuds appeared nightly on our plates…potatoes, again? Some of us were watching our carb intake. But a few days into our journey we were so enamored by the ubiquitous spud, we gave in and even started buying farl, a bread made from potatoes, to accompany our meals. At dinner we quizzed Violet, who grew up here as had her father’s father’s father. Where to go? What to do? What was Prince Charles like?
AUDIO ASIDE Noel let it leak that his mom, Violet, was a skilled tealeaf reader. On our last night at the castle she Hear about ushered each of us into the kitchen. So powerful Pam’s tea-leaf were her translations of the wet, loose, leaves of tea reading. that clung to the bottom of the cup, that not one of us spoke of it around the hearth that night. Violet gave us each something profound to ponder, but we all agreed that Crom Castle was a royal place to spend a week exploring the magic of Northern Ireland.
OUR MAN NOEL! CLICK TO LEARN ABOUT THE YEW TREES OF CROM
Noel in the Yew Tree.
IF YOU GO Crom Castle was awarded the Winner of the Northern Ireland Tourism Award 2007 for Accommodation. It is located in Northern Ireland about 125 miles from Dublin and 80 miles from Belfast. The nearest towns are Enniskillen and Lisnaskea. The West Wing is available to rent year round on a weekly or weekend basis for groups of up to 12 people. You can tailor your stay to be selfcatering, or if you would like to be looked after, a cook can be provided. Bring your own wine and other beverages.
Boathouse with castle behind
RATES For current rates, visit the Crom Castle website. Rates include the use of the Earl of Erne’s private tennis court and the rowing boat with an outboard motor for exploring the lakes.
CONTACT West Wing Crom Castle Newtownbutler County Fermanagh Northern Ireland Tel: +44 028 677 38004 firstname.lastname@example.org
Click the coat of arms to visit the website
THE NATIONAL TRUST The National Trust has managed the Crom Estate since 1987. Crom is one of the Trust’s most important nature reserves. The National Trust Visitor Center on the Estate houses an exhibition on the history and wildlife of Crom. It also has a lecture room, the Little Orchard Tea Room, a small shop and a slipway for your own boat. Boat hire can be arranged through the Visitor Centre. Pike fishing on the Green Lake and Coarse Fishing on Lough Erne can also be arranged with the National Trust. CLICK TO VISIT
THE NATIONAL TRUST T: +44 028 6773 8118 E: email@example.com
NEARBY EXCURSIONS Marble Arch Caves are among Europe’s finest with magnificent Mesozoic limestone caves, natural underworld rivers, waterfalls, and winding passages from a boat. In 2004 Marble Arch Caves and the nearby Cuilcagh Mountain Park were jointly recognized as a Unesco Global Geopark. The Atlantic Ocean, with its large sand dunes and dramatic rock formations, is within a 90-minute drive from Crom. As long as the ghosts don’t send you down weird, unmarked highways, bring a picnic or have a seafood lunch at the renowned Smugglers Creek Pub on the cliffs overlooking Donegal Bay and Blue Stack Mountains. Sip your Guinness at the 150 year-old pub known for having “the best view in Ireland.” Devenish Island is one of the largest of some 200 islands to be found in Lough Erne, and is the site of ruins of an abbey, and of a perfect 12th-century round tower. The island can be reached by ferry. Lough Erne by Boat: A variety of boat tour companies offer day cruises on Lough Erne’s extensive waterways.
Suzanne talks about bicycling around Crom
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crom castle medieval faire
by Pamela Michael
crom castle medieval faire
CONTESTS | MUSIC | FOOD Knights test their mettle in horseback jousting, and swordfighting demonstrations. Try your hand at falconry, blacksmiting and enjoy music and all kinds of historical re-enactments during this one-day medieval faire in the summer at Crom Estate.
crom castle medieval faire
crom castle medieval faire
crom castle medieval faire
Wild Writing Women feature
AND MORE OF THE CASTLE LESLIE CAST OF CHARACTERS
by Jacqueline Harmon Butler
ME E T DISCO JACK
The Wild Writing Women piled into our minivan and set out for Glaslough, County Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland. We were spending a week at the glorious Crom Castle just across the border in Northern Ireland, and the added bonus of exploring yet another castle was too tempting to pass up. I had met Noel McMeel, the Executive Chef at Castle Leslie, a few months earlier in San Francisco at a Tourism Ireland luncheon. Using the hotel’s kitchen, Noel prepared an adventurous lunch of Nouvelle Irish Cuisine. When I
mentioned that the Wild Writing Women were going to be in Ireland he invited us to come visit. Castle Leslie Estate is one of thirty great Irish ancestral homes still run by the original family. Since the 1660’s the distinguished and eccentric Leslie family has lived there, welcoming everyone from politicians to poets to rock stars (and as we later learned back home, our old pal Diane LeBow!). A few years back, in their happier days, Paul and Heather McCartney held their magical flower-filled fantasy wedding at the castle.
Castle Leslie is located on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and was deeply affected by The Troubles. During that time the castle and grounds were allowed to slowly fall apart. It wasn’t until 1991 that Samantha Leslie took over management of the estate from her uncle, Sir John. Her dream to restore their ancestral home to its former glory took years to realize but the multi-million
dollar project is finally nearing completion. The resort has some of the most unusual and interesting luxury accommodations in all of Ireland, including the Castle, the Hunting Lodge and self-catering cottages in the Village. True to his word, Noel was waiting for us along with Sir John, who is affectionately known as Disco Jack because at the spry age of 91 he still
Sir John enjoys a quiet afternoon
frequents the local village disco. After graciously answering our questions and posing for photos, he turned us over to Noel for our tour of the Hunting Lodge, the stables and, of course, the cooking school. Noel had prepared a delicious lunch for us, which was served in an impressive wood-paneled room off the bar of the Hunting Lodge. The thick and creamy Irish Barley soup was perfect on a damp, cool afternoon. The soup was accompanied by a variety of fresh vegetable, chicken and cheese sandwiches, using a combination of light and dark breads. Irish bread is a story all by itself and I could have dined on it alone. As the waiter popped open a bottle of champagne we all laughed when we saw the
label: “Uncle Jack’s Disco Bubbles Grand Reserve.” The completely restored Hunting Lodge is the main part of the hotel and offers a variety of rooms, some of them overlooking the new stateof-the-art equestrian center. Being horse lovers, we wanted to go down to meet the animals and see their sumptuous accommodations, which include an indoor show ring and a mechanized roundabout cooling ring. There is even a virtual horse, which can be programmed for a variety of gaits, walks, canters, and gallops. The horse is king at Castle Leslie and there are over 1,000 acres of parklands to explore. Alas, there wasn’t time for even a brief canter on one of these beauties, virtual or otherwise.
But if we had been on a long ride over the greens, no doubt we could have luxuriated afterwards in the Organic Spa with its old-fashioned steam boxes, hammam, and a hot tub overlooking the Old Stables Mews. There were relaxation couches separated by wispy curtains and a soft fragrance of wild flowers and herbs floated in the air.
It was tempting to surrender to the delights of the spa but it was time to visit the old Castle, which was under siege by an army of craftsmen, carpenters, electricians, and painters who were completing major renovations and repairs. Walter, heady of castle security and our guide, told us that the entire project was scheduled to be completed in two weeks. Looking at the amount
of work yet to be done, it was staggering to think the workmen could meet that deadline. We wandered from room to room, ducking under scaffolds, hanging wires and curtains, imagining how lovely the rooms would look when the workmen had finally finished. Antique furniture was pushed to the side of many of the rooms. Priceless pieces were casually covered with drop cloths with almost no thought as to their delicacy or value. In one of the large halls hung a sword of honor and I had fun posing with
it as the Queen on Swords from a traditional Tarot deck. There was a men’s toilet just off the ballroom that had four urinals at different heights across the wall. The lowest one was listed as “small,” the next “medium,” the third one’s sign read “bragger” and the fourth one said “In Your Dreams!” Just off one master suite was an oversized shiny copper Victorian bathtub. We giggled at the thought of Paul and Heather up to their necks in fragrant bubbles sipping champagne on their wedding night.
Walter walked us around the grounds, pointing out various magnificent trees, including one that had a tree house. He told us of the time Mick Jagger climbed up there to get away from a bevy of giggling females who were chasing him at a party. Mick, he told us, is a cousin of the Leslie’s. The estate has miles of stone “famine walls” criss-crossing the fields. We learned that during the potato famine in the mid-19th century landowners risked losing their property if they were caught feeding the poor. They got around this law by putting poor people to work building unneeded stone walls and then paying them with food. Every so often we would catch a glimpse of Sir John, nattily dressed in his tweed suit and Tyrolean hat complete with jaunty feather, wandering through the hedgerows or down a tree-lined path. Walter told us the patriarch takes long walks everyday in all kinds of weather.
We stopped at a small cemetery and saw a grave, complete with headstone, all ready for Disco Jack. All that was missing, besides him, was the date of death. As we walked along Glaslough, old Gaelic for green lake, I felt a deep affinity with the land of some of my forefathers. Ireland has such a difficult history. Between the Great Hunger and The Troubles it’s no wonder that the local folk seize every opportunity to laugh and sing and share a pint. My love of fun and laughter is surely a genetic connection with the Emerald Isle.
Chef Noel & his cooking school
Noel caught up with us at the entrance of the cooking school. Proud as a new parent, he explained that he had been in total control of the restoration of the original Victorian kitchens. The main room is huge, featuring stateof-the art stations for the students, with everything they need—pots, pans, mixers, blenders, knives, utensils—all within arms’ reach. Chef Noel’s understanding of
seasonal local produce plays a big part in his classes and menus. At his direction, the large kitchen garden, which was overgrown and lifeless when he arrived, has been turned into a healthy living garden filled with a cook’s delight of vegetables and herbs. The school officially opened in July 2006 and is one of the best-known cooking schools in Ireland.
The cooking school dining room.
The course offerings include evening, one-day and two-day cooking courses for up to twelve people. Noel’s big blue eyes flashed with laughter when he described his “Men Only, Guilt-free Cooking” and “Food & Erotica’” classes. I was particularly intrigued by the “Food and Erotica “ class and wished I could take part in one of those. I wondered if Disco Jack would like to join me. I could just imagine us dancing around the kitchen to some hot disco music, pausing now and then to cut something up, or stir a pot, pausing to toss fragrant herbs at each other or to taste our divine creations. §
Cathy Miller covets the kitchen.
Glaslough Co. Monaghan Tel: +353 (0) 47 88100 www.castleleslie.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Wild Writing Women what goes around
Through the Looking Glass
FLASHBACK! Castle Leslie in the 1980’s
by Diane LeBow
When we drove up to Castle Leslie in County Monaghan, a few hours north of Dublin, that day in May 1987, I had no idea that an otherworldly experience awaited me. Walking toward the ramshackle castle, we noticed a glass conservatory—well, mostly glass, but with numerous missing or broken panes. Sitting inside at an antiquated manual typewriter was a wild-silver-haired gentleman, his equally wild eyes hidden behind horn-rimmed spectacles, looking as though he might have stepped out of a Lewis Carroll tale for a few moments to welcome us to his ancestral home. Recently, I was surprised to learn that said Castle Leslie is now a chic inn, spa, and equestrian center. I was even more amazed to learn that our Through-the-Looking- Glass elfin host of twenty years ago was none other than a famous eccentric Irish aristocrat, WWII Spitfire pilot, pioneer of electronic music, and co-author of one of the first books on UFOs, entitled Flying Saucers Have Landed, by Desmond Leslie himself. All of us mounted up at the—even then—well-kept stable, a feature in striking contrast to the disheveled castle itself. Desmond and his daughter Sammy (Samantha Leslie) galloped with me through their lovely woods, leaping together over fences, and relishing the horsey bond that knows no international boundaries. They provided me with a sweet little bay mare, half Connemara, half Irish Thoroughbred, who quickly became my good companion. Desmond cooked for us. There were no servants or employees. The first evening Desmond prepared and carved a gorgeous large turkey for us, spilling a goodly portion of the steaming gravy down the intricately carved front of the ancient wooden sideboard. The Leslies and my friends and I, five of us in all, sat at an enormous wooden table—half the length of a polo field, it seemed—
almost shouting to be heard from one end to the other. Desmond, and especially daughter Sammy, told us of their dreams to turn the place into a self-supporting equestrian center. Sammy seemed to me to have inherited some strain of practicality and sense of business matters, which may well have skipped over some of her aristocratic ancestry. Like a Mad Hatters Tea Party, every evening we would eat in a different cavernous room, each equally dusty, cobweb strewn, and carrying the aroma of family mysteries. One afternoon as I wandered through the empty castle, Sammy out at the stable and Desmond typing away, perched on his tattered wicker chair out in the arboretum, I noticed upon entering our dining room of that first evening that, like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock film, the turkey carcass with spilled gravy now congealed on the floor, still sat mummifying on the sideboard. My memories of that time at Castle Leslie still make me smile. For example, I recall one day when my French friend who was visiting there with me was being a bit of a nuisance. Desmond, exasperated, said to me, sotto voce, “Indeed, how can one deal with a people that use the same word for up and down?” I was saddened to hear that Desmond died in 2001, in Antibes, and that I shall never enjoy his company again. Sammy visited me here in San Francisco, in the early 1990s, at the start of her round-the-world self-education tour, studying hotel management and gaining work experience. I am so pleased to hear that her dream to restore Castle Leslie has come true. One of these days I shall return—to check for turkey gravy stains on the antique sideboard and gallop another lovely mare past the lake and through the woods. §
castle leslie equestrian centre
ga l l e r y
by Carla King
Julie Sargeant is an Englishwoman who answered an ad in the Britishbased Horse and Hound to develop and manage Castle Leslie’s cuttingedge equestrian centre. Three months later she says, “I got on a boat with my furniture in one lorry, my daughter’s pony and my horse in another, my six dogs in the back of my truck, and stood on the back of the boat holding my 8-year-old’s hand and watching England disappear . . . and had not a single moment’s regret.”
castle leslie equestrian centre
The centre has 21 miles of track, a 30x50 meter indoor riding arena, a “virtual horse” for practicing without the muss and fuss of getting a real animal ready, and a horse walker—a kind of treadmill for horsie indoor workouts during those deepest darkest wettest Irish winters.
castle leslie equestrian centre
Julie unpacks her latest acquisition: the “Virtual Horse.”
castle leslie equestrian centre
A first-class operation, from the stable floors to the weathervane.
castle leslie equestrian centre
Walking them home again.
Jacqueline Harmon Butler reports on . . .
A diminutive Georgian mansion consisting of 25 completely furnished rooms is a bonus attraction of a visit to Malahide Castle.
The rain continued to pour as my taxi arrived at Malahide Castle just outside Dublin. It was my birthday and to celebrate I had decided that visiting Tara’s Palace, a dollhouse located on part of the castle grounds, was a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. This diminutive Georgian-style mansion was created by Ron and Doreen McDonnell in 1980 and is undoubtedly one of the world’s most significant dollhouses. The money raised from its entrance fees, gift shop sales and special events is donated to a variety of children’s charities.
Currently Tara’s Palace has 25 completed rooms; work continues on the addition of more rooms and miniature furnishings. The central façade is nine feet wide. Designed and meticulously constructed to one-twelfth scale that would accommodate people no more than six inches tall, it encapsulates the grandeur and elegance of Ireland’s great 18th-century Georgian mansions. The Palace sits on a huge platform in the middle of a large, brightly lit room. The outside walls of the dollhouse are made of glass, Jenny Gamble exposing the elaborate rooms to the viewer from a ramp around the perimeter. I stood for a few minutes just taking it all in, then I slowly made my way around, enjoying the marvelous workmanship that had created this magical place. The materials used are little pieces of real construction items: miniature marble tiles, exotic wood paneling and trims, parquet floors. Gorgeous textiles drape the windows, many rooms are decorated with hand-carved chairs and tables. Miniature paintings by leading Irish artists adorn many of the walls. There are miniscule silver goblets, copper pots in the kitchen, small petit point rugs and chair pillows, tiny toys in the nursery, and even a replica treadle sewing machine. I had a vision of myself, Lilliputian sized, sitting in front of the sewing machine creating a miniscule doll dress of satin and lace.
I found The Important Drawing Room to be rather formal and cold, but following the walkway around the outside of the house to the Ivory Room, I delighted in the artistry of the diminutive furnishings. The Day Nursery is filled with scattered toys as if the children had just left. Then on to The Oriental Room with its collection of lacquered credenzas, small tables and chairs and hand-carved screens. There is a four-poster bed in Tara’s Bedchamber and even an en suite marble bathroom. Personal items like an ivory comb and brush are set on the bureau. The Entrance Hall features a beautiful Georgian staircase connecting to the second floor. It’s an amazing bit of craftsmanship, typical of the period, and looks like it’s magically suspended, almost floating, as the anchor into the wall only supports the marble risers and carved brass railings. I could easily imagine myself in a gorgeous gown, descending this magnificent staircase to greet guests in my elegant foyer. My favorite room is the Library, stacked with tomes floor to ceiling. All the books are real with loose pages filled with text and drawings, lying about on tables, rugs, and chairs. I wanted to downsize myself so I could sit back for a good read in the comfy armchair.
The hours passed quickly for me in the world of miniature treasures and at closing time I reluctantly left. The rain had stopped and the air was fresh and perfumed with cedar and pine trees. I rode the train back into Central Dublin, but in my mind, I was still six inches tall, sitting in Tara’s library, curled up in the big comfortable chair and reading one of those beautiful little books.
Jacqueline Harmon Butler
Malahide Castle Malahide, County Dublin Tel: +353 (1) 846 3779 www.malahidecastle.com
N TIO Cathleen Miller visits . . . C RA
Arts and Crafts for the Dublin Aristocracy
I froze in front of the shop window. This coat offered a fantasy life of freshness, femininity and originality.
While sashaying down one of the Grafton Street tributaries, I froze: there in the shop window was a jacket that was my style. Let me just say that I am a very choosy shopper, although like most woman I have purchased items because they were on sale or utilitarian, but here was a jacket that stopped me in my tracks because it was my style—you know the feeling—a garment that produced heart palpitations and dilated pupils. The platinum brocade fabric, Edwardian tailoring, and large jade-like buttons not only promised a heady transfusion of my style, this coat offered a fantasy life of freshness, femininity and originality—at last my chance to join the aristocracy and assume my rightful place surrounded by leisure and grace.
Inside the shop I discovered three floors of such goods, a sort of hip Irish Laura Ashley collection of clothing and housewares—everything from chintz-patterned china to flowered rubber boots that would make you pray for rain. Only later would I learn that while I was fondling the merchandise, the other Ws were in Ballykissangel touring the original Avoca Handweavers, a family-owned craft design concern founded in 1723, making it Eire’s oldest surviving business. That evening while I was trying to borrow money from them to buy my Avoca jacket, they recounted their adventures from their day trip. (See photos on next page.) The Dublin store’s basement houses a gourmet deli and epicurean feast of comestibles, everything the grande dame needs to serve high tea in her townhouse, naturally resplendent in her elegant brocade jacket. §
Avoca 11-13 Suffolk Street Dublin 2 BT92 2BA www.avoca.ie +353 (1) 677 4215
Co unt y Wi ck l ow
by Carla King
P h o to s & Vide o
The f l y s h u ttle loo m wa s invented in 1740. I t ’s so called b e c a u s e t he shuttle car r ying the yar n has small wheels t h at l e t i t f l y a cross the loom. There’s an over head str ing that c au s e s a l eather picker to hit the shuttle and send it fly i n g. Th e wa r p threads are lif ted up and down by foot pedals. Th i s l o o m re vo lu tionize d weaving in the 18th centur y. B efore t h at, the s h u t t l e wa s pa sse d a cross the loom by hand. M en were s o wo r r i e d t h at this new invention would put them out of wo r k that l o o m s were sma she d or bur nt. The fly shuttle loom i s s t i l l t h e m ost efficient method of handweaving. A weave r c a n p ro d u ce u p to 18 meters of cloth per day. S ee it in ac tio n i n the s h o r t vid e o s o n the nex t pages.
Click image to watch a short video (1 of 2) on the Internet (you must be connected to the Internet)
Click image to watch a short video (2 of 2) on the Internet (you must be connected to the Internet)
Click here to take a virtual tour of Avoca on their website.
O N LY EVIEW OR R L E Y: F E GAL VA N C AD
Reviews CATHY MILLER
Stick THIS in your iPod!
Miller to Go
Events Links JACQULELINE HARMON BUTLER
Gear and Gadgets
Stick this in your iPod
Sounds to complement your inner and outer journey
From good listening to ROCK OUT!, our music correspondent personally recommends these Celtic and Celtic-fusion travel companions.
Celtic Crossroads (good listening) Ancient traditions meet modern technology in this captivating overview of contemporary Celtic music.
(all the great artists) Celtic Tides
A musical journey from the Old World to the New. Features Clannad, Altan, The Rankins with The Chieftains, and more. Dagda - Celtic Trance (soothing mystical journey) Trance ambient rhythms joined with the popular Celtic mystique results in a hypnotic blend of whispery vocals, haunting strains of Celtic flute, piano, harp and pulsing bass. This is quite simply a highly essential album from an extremely unique group who fuse seemingly opposite cultures together: Celtic strings & African drums. Afro-Celt Sound System - Seed (high-energy fun) Fiddles and uilleann pipes mix with hardcore West African percussion in a whirl of electronic bliss. The Afro Celts offer listeners another dose of ‘sound magic’ via ‘Seed’, their fourth release.
(jig out!) Afro-Celt Sound System - Sound Magic
Gear and Gadgets
G eek out on sound
Sight, smell, touch, taste, and . . . SOUND! This trip my favorite gadget was the iTalk microphone. It plugged into my iPod to create a recording device of decent quality at a decent price: just $20 at most discount retailers. I hadn’t realized how integral sound is a part of a journey until I came home and listened to what I’d recorded while I was in Ireland. Voice notes, interviews, ambient sounds: all the audio you hear in this magazine was recorded with it . . . actually, I used its older cousin without the stereo and other improvements of the upgraded iTalk Pro. The iTalk Pro’s twin built-in mics record directly to your iPod, and adjustable gain settings give you control over the volume. You can even use an external microphone; just plug it in to the 3.5mm jack. Sigh. So much technology, so little time.
A small negative: I did make quite a few unwanted recordings, as the big friendly record button was easily activated while knocking around my purse, but hey, it’s digital. At the end of the day, I plugged my iPod into the MacBook, synched it in iTunes, and deleted the unwanted recordings from my my Voice Memos in the playlist. So now what? When I needed to get a recording out of iTunes and into a format where I could share it, I first exported it to MP3 format, then opened it in the free Audacity sound editor. Audacity lets you tinker with stop and end points, cut out inappropriate comments, and fade in and out, not to mention adding music or ambient sound tracks. I really had to stop myself from getting completely immersed in sound editing so I could work on the other aspects of producing this magazine. But look for more sound from the Wild Writing Women in the future. I just turned our music diva Lisa Alpine on to Audacity. She’s already hooked.
Click to buy
iTalk Pro for the iPod by Griffin Technology About 50 U.S. dollars. Click image for discounted price of about $20 on amazon.com. Audacity Sound Editor for Mac, Windows, and Linux. It’s a very popular free, open source software program.
Miller to Go Singing in the Pub
landed in Dublin to visit my old friends, sister and brother Maeve and Barry O’Sullivan. I met the O’Sullivans when they lived on Russian Hill and we have remained friends for eighteen years, in spite of their poor correspondence habits, which they extend to all forms of conveyance: the postal service, telephones, and now email. No, the way to experience this clan is first-person, and our friendship has survived because of our shared love of the “craic,” as the Irish say.
2005 I set off on an around-the-world trip and for good luck decided to make my first stop a visit to Ireland. After flying in from San Francisco, I
At the time of my visit, Maeve had a new baby, Kim, a highspirited redhead like her mother. On my first afternoon in town her husband Peter was working, so we loaded the wee one in her carrier and the three of us headed up into the Dublin mountains. This was my first visit to this area, and I learned that it was like San Francisco in that thirty minutes outside of Dublin you could reach such scenic countryside that you’d think no city was within a hundred miles. We stopped at a legendary public house, the Blue Light, entering a quiet room where a handful of local men sat nursing their beers. As we sat down, Maeve gingerly placed the sleeping Kim’s carrier on a bench, and everyone stared at us. I thought we’d made a mistake by bringing the baby into this male domain, but naturally being this close to my first pint of real homegrown Guinness, I wasn’t about to retreat without a fight. About half way through the first round, Kim awoke and began crying. Maeve said, “I guess we better go,” and struggling to hold back the tears myself, I nodded. A grey-haired gentleman in glasses was seated on the bench to the right of my friend. He spoke up abruptly: “What she’ll be wanting is a lullaby.” And without further ado, he launched into a classic Irish tenor version of “Daisy” that left me speechless. Soon all the other men in the room joined in, baritones adding gravitas to the lilting
high voices: “Daisy, Daisy, I’m half crazy, all for the love of you. . .” Kim immediately started cooing, Maeve grinned, and sitting by the coal fire on a June evening, I felt as if I’d stumbled through a time warp into a turn-of-the-century sing-a-long. The harmonies continued, with the occasional solo. One fortyish fellow propped in the corner closed his eyes and sang a pitch-perfect rendition of the old Patsy Cline standard, “Crazy.” However, in spite of my giddiness over this unexpected treat, I kept glancing at one elderly man hunched at the bar. He wore thick black-rimmed glasses and a wool flat cap. He said nary a word, but his relentless glower conveyed: “I am not amused.” After several more numbers the group asked where I was from, and then began badgering me to sing something. I hadn’t sung since grade school, and started to panic. As the goading continued, I admitted with shame that I wasn’t being coy, but I honestly couldn’t remember the words to any song. My drinking buddies were not buying this excuse. “C’mon, you must know something!”
Finally I launched into a few bars of “Summertime” which seemed appropriate considering the concert had begun to “hush little baby.” When I petered out for lack of another line, the man in the flat cap said in a gruff bellow: “You’ve got a lovely voice...sing some more.” I could feel myself blushing. With the help of the assembled, who knew the words to more American songs than I, we sang some Hank Williams’ tunes. These alternated with solo efforts from the Blue Light regulars, who performed long Irish republican songs; by turns they would close their eyes and launch unselfconsciously into a performance, as I marveled that they knew the words to these endless complicated verses. One blonde woman, who had entered later, stood with feet apart, hands clasped behind her, head back, and in her alto recounted verse after verse of a political ballad. For me the evening was a complete success when finally my man in the wool cap closed his eyes and droned in a flat basso a mournful ditty about love lost. It was around this time that Maeve’s husband entered and ordered a beer at the bar. One of the choir turned to him and said, “Shhh, there’s a baby sleeping over there.” Too soon it was time to take the baby home and we bade our new friends good night. As we headed toward the door, every man in the room stood and sang in sweet harmony: “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair . . .” With tears in my eyes, I waved farewell, and realized my journey had just begun. §
Jacqueline Harmon Butler
Gallagher’s Boxty House
a review with recipes
In celebration of my birthday this year in Dublin, I wanted traditional Irish food for dinner, especially my favorite: champ. Champ is one of the Emerald Isle’s simpler dishes—you mash some potatoes, add pure Irish butter, stir in some scallions cooked in milk or cream, and serve. I call it Irish comfort food. Gallagher’s Boxty House serves champ, and came highly recommended. None of us had any idea what “boxty” was, but the Dublin favorite seemed a fine Boxty on the griddle, place for a birthday celebration, so we decided to give it a try. Boxty in the pan, There, we learned that boxty (from If you can’t make boxty, the Gaelic, Bacstai, referring to the traditional method of grilling over You’ll never get a man. an open fire) is a pancake made with a mixture of cooked, mashed, and -- old Irish rhyme grated raw potatoes. Intrigued, we ordered a couple of variations, but first came fresh oysters, chicken liver pâté with homemade brown bread and cranberry marmalade, and oak-smoked Irish salmon. Then the boxty arrived, served like crepes, stuffed to overflowing with delicious rump steak marinated in stout and braised with mushrooms, fresh herbs and horseradish. Another variation was filled with Wicklow lamb, slow cooked with cumin, carrots and fresh mint.
CLICK TO VISIT
The vegetarian in the group ordered what turned out to be a scrumptious vegetable pie, made up of fresh seasonal veggies baked in a tangy tomato sauce and topped with—of course—potatoes. With it, we drank a French wine, Domaine de Pierre Blanche Minervois, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache from the Languedoc-Roussillon region. It was big enough to stand up to the heavy Irish dishes, yet had a soft, opulent mouth-feel. Of course the birthday girl ordered a side dish of champ all for herself. Even though it didn’t come with a candle, it was almost my favorite part of the dinner. Almost. Hands down, the best course was dessert, a house-made sticky toffee pudding garnished with whipped cream and chocolate sauce, which was instantly devoured by the four of us. Scraping the dish clean I smiled and thought, “Yes, this was a perfect way to spend my birthday.” §
Gallagher’s Boxty House 20-21 Temple Bar Dublin 2, Ireland Tel: +353 (1) 677 2762 Fax: +353 (1) 677 9723 www.boxtyhouse.ie
1 and 3/4 pounds potatoes 1 bunch scallions or green onions, trimmed and sliced fine 2/3 cup whole milk (or cream) Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter Peel the potatoes and cut them into small chunks. Bring to a boil in a pot of salted water, then cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, simmer the scallions gently in the milk for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain the potatoes, then return them to the pot and place them over low heat for a minute or so to allow any excess water to evaporate. Add the milk and onions, and pound or beat the potatoes to a soft, fluffy mash. Add plenty of salt and pepper as you go. Mound the champ in a large bowl. Make a little hollow for the butter and allow it to melt into the potatoes before serving. Makes 4 servings.
BOXTY PANCAKES ON THE GRIDDLE
1 1/2 lb. russet potatoes 1 cup flour 2 cups milk salt and pepper bacon fat or lard (or oil) for greasing griddle Cut half the potatoes into large chunks and boil in salted water until tender. Peel while hot and mash thoroughly. Place in large bowl. Peel the remaining potatoes and grate onto cheesecloth. Gather up the ends of the cloth and squeeze out as much starchy liquid as you can. Mix into the mashed potato bowl and then sift the flour over the top and add salt and pepper to taste. Gradually add milk a little at a time to make a thick batter. Grease a heavy frying pan or griddle and heat thoroughly. Drop a ladle full of the mixture on the surface and spread out thinly. When browned underneath, flip over and brown the other side. Repeat until all the mixture is used up. Spoon filling onto pancakes, roll up and serve hot with butter. Suggested fillings: Slow cooked beef or chicken with vegetables A variety of roasted vegetables Chili beans with grated sharp cheddar cheese Makes 4 servings.
STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for greasing pan 1 cup self-rising cake flour, plus additional for flouring pan 1 cup pitted dates (5 oz.), finely chopped 1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar 1/8 teaspoon salt 1 large egg 1/3 cup water Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8-inch round cake pan, 2 inches deep. In a 1 quart heavy saucepan simmer dates in 1 cup water, covered, until soft, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat, let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Beat together 1 stick butter and 1/4 cup brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in egg until combined. Add flour and 1/8-teaspoon salt and mix at low speed until just combined. Add dates and mix until just combined. Pour batter into pan and bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, melt remaining stick of butter in a heavy 2 quart saucepan over moderate heat and stir in remaining cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup water, and a pinch of salt. Boil over moderately high heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and sauce is reduced to about 1 1/4 cups, 2 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and cover. Transfer pudding in pan to a rack and poke all over at 1 inch intervals with a fork. Gradually pour half of warm sauce evenly over hot pudding. Let stand until almost all of sauce is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of pan. Place a plate over pudding and invert pudding onto plate. Pour remaining warm sauce over pudding and serve immediately. Makes 6 to 8 servings. Cooks’ note: Pudding, soaked with half of sauce, can stand at room temperature up to 2 hours. Reheat in pan in a 300°F oven 10 minutes. Warm remaining sauce before pouring over pudding.
events and excursions
city sights and roadside attractions
A Dublin Tradition
Pubs & Spuds
A study in images
Vitamin G: From the source
The Sheelin Antique
Avoca Dublin Avoca Handweavers
Salve for the Sole
Night Train to Limerick
pubs and spuds
ga l l e r y
by Carla King
Sing along, if you dare, with the Wild Writing Women and our original hit single (penned by our own Cathleen Miller) on route to the pubs of Eire: Out-of-tune singalongers welcome. (1 minute)
You Take the High Road
VITAMIN G: It’s Good for Youse
by Lisa Alpine
To recover from giving birth or sightseeing, Vitamin G is Ireland’s daily minimum requirement
Serve at 6 degrees. Pour at 45 degree angle to 3/4 full. Let the surge settle. Pour until full. Let settle for 119.5 seconds. Enjoy.
What do the Wild Writing Women and nursing mums in Ireland have in common? of pint ly bies? A dail ’ carame ? ba in ess born ew foam d Guinn N re colo No! Yes! Guinness stout is on tap everywhere on the Emerald Isle. At any pub in Ireland you can nurse on a pint for about four Euros but nursing mothers get it for free. This practice was birthed at the end of the 19th century, when stout porter beer gained the reputation of being a healthy strengthening drink. It was used by athletes and nursing mothers; doctors recommended it to help “recovery.” There is plenty of medical folklore about the drink. In some countries, stout is seen as an aphrodisiac. In others, it’s a beneficial bath for newborn babies. It is a popular belief that brewery workers who are given free Guinness never develop bladder cancer. In Ireland, stout is made available to blood donors and abdominal post-operative patients, probably because of its high iron content. Recovery, remember?
It certainly helped the Wild Writing Women recover from our various sightseeing activities while in Dublin, too. Each night we’d meet at McDaid’s pub on Harry Street for a Guinness stout and chitchat. Surrounded by dark-tied men in suits on their way home from work, we were a gaggle of Yanks in the corner, holding pints aloft. Originally, the adjective “stout” meant “proud” or “brave.” The first known use of the word “stout” meaning “beer” was in a document dated 1677. The delicious dry stout the Wild Writing Women were imbibing originated in Arthur Guinness’s St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin. The beer is based upon the dark porter style that was popular in London in the 1700’s. The distinctive feature in the flavor is the roasted barley which remains unfermented. Given that no one on our journey suffered any ailments stronger than a hangover, perhaps what they say is true: Guinness is Vitamin G. Along with potatoes, it is now one of my favorite food groups. And it’s good for youse, too. A pint a day just might keep that doctor away . . . Here is the recipe for the perfect pour: GUINNESS® Draught is best served at 6°C (that’s 42.8°F) with the legendary two-part pour. First, tilt the glass to 45 degrees and carefully pour until three quarters full. Then place the glass on the bar counter and leave to settle. Once the surge has settled, fill the glass to the brim. It takes about 119.5 seconds to pour the perfect pint. But don’t fret. It’s worth the wait. Click the glass to visit the Guinness website.
Bonus track! Absent in the photo is Pam and our wee lassie Suzanne, who took us by surprise with this writerly limerick. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
The Dublin Writers Festival
by Lisa Alpine
The drizzly Irish summer is perked up by the Dublin Writers Festival, a wildly popular event that sells out quickly each year
The English language includes so many texture-rich and complex words.
The use of language to weave landscape, both human and natural, went beyond description in the discussion and debate between authors John Lanchester and Tim Robinson at the Dublin Writers Festival. Both exceptionally clever storytellers, they reminded me how many texture-rich and complex words the English language contains. The Writers Festival is held annually during the drizzly Dublin summer. I drooled over the festival program schedule, which brimmed with heady presentations by many fine writers including Adrienne Rich, Rose Tremain, Xiaolu Guo and Alistair MacLeod to name a few, but when I went to buy tickets, alas, it was nearly sold-out. I was only able to attend one event, which had the
desired effect of stretching my imagination and stimulating my wordy ways. The woman sitting next to me at The Ark Theater, one of the event venues, was as friendly as an Irish setter, engaging me in conversation before my bottom even reached the seat. She was a fan of Robinson’s and had all his books except “one that was out of print.” I suggested she go to the public library. With a look of
ok w o B
ead! ll ah e
utter astonishment, she said, “Why, I’d forgotten about libraries. I used to go all the time but since the ‘Green Tiger’ [the economic boom], I buy all my books. It never occurred to me to check out a free copy at the library.” Up first was Robinson, author of the universally acclaimed twovolume Stones of Aran, an environmentalist and writer who engages the landscape, folklore and tangled history of Ireland in his newest epic, Connemara: Listening to the Wind. Lanchester focuses more on the urban, exploring the psychogeography of England’s capital city. In his recent book, London: A City of Disappearances, he has remapped
and redefined the city’s fugitive topography by wandering on foot along the edges and seams. As I left the theater for the grey streets of Dublin, a feeling of inspiration drew me quickly down the sidewalk and back to my hotel and my laptop, where the words seemed to pour out from my fingertips. I felt I’d undergone a brainy leap forward from my brief experience of great minds speaking about why they write, their passion for words, the perfection of the craft, and the evolution of the story from thought to indelible paper. I met our group of Wild Writing Women at McDaid’s pub that night with the happy news of a story written and more inspiration to be had the rest of the week—if we could only get tickets. Next time I’ll be sure to book well ahead! §
CLICK FOR MORE INFORMATION The Dublin Writers Festival is held annually in June at various venues downtown. Tickets cost between 8-16 Euros and they can be purchased online several months ahead.
Jacqueline Harmon Butler reports on . . .
What do Ursuline nuns, Venetian lace, and the potato famine have in common?
The patterns were closely-guarded secrets passed from mother to daughter.
Everyone’s heard of Irish lace. But have you heard of Youghal Needlelace or Inishmacsaint Needlelace? How about Limerick, Crochet and Carrickmacross? These lace styles are all proudly represented at the Sheelin Antique Irish Lace Museum in Bellanaleck in Northern Ireland. Irish lace is world famous for the intricate, as well as heavier, designs developed from very basic patterns. When the WWW visited, the lace museum was overflowing with exquisitely crafted lace. Much of it wasn’t for sale but there was a section of beautiful antique lace garments, as well as vintage beaded items such as bags, jackets and dresses for sale. I almost fainted at the prices, but then I reminded myself that all these exquisite pieces were handmade. Although today lacemaking is a big business, with large factories rolling off yards of fabric in minutes, the earliest Irish lace began as a cottage industry. The wealthy lords owned the land and tenant farmers produced crops for the owners. They lived in small cottages on land, called crofts, growing their own food on the least desirable, leftover acreage. Most of the crofters were
The nuns realized this skill could save people from famine.
“dirt poor” with little money for necessities. With the lack of land and the rocky soil, the most productive crop to grow was potatoes. When the potato blight swept across the country between 1845 and 1851 it meant starvation for thousands of households. The Ursuline nuns came to the rescue. They were familiar with creating Venetian lace, and began teaching the tenant farm women how to make it. I had been to Burano, home of lacemaking in Venice, Italy, and had been fascinated by the skill and patience it took to create even the smallest design in this needlecraft. The nuns realized that these skills could save the people from famine. They began instructing many girls and women to produce the fine crochet that has come to be known as “Irish lace.” Designs and motifs were developed by families and the patterns were closelyguarded secrets passed from mother to daughter. The details were kept so secret that many of the designs were lost as the families either died or fled from poverty to other lands. The wealthier Irish families that could afford to buy such luxuries earned the name of “lace curtain Irish.” Leave it to the Irish to find humor during this bleak time.
The crochet schools established by the nuns in the 1850s and 1860s disappeared as fashions changed and the demand for the cottage lace declined. The introduction of factory production changed the industry and mass production is now the rule. The 1880s saw a brief revival of the cottage lace industry and produced most of the samples that are now family heirlooms or museum pieces. Today many of these exquisite items are treasured as part of Irish history. The museum has approximately 700 exhibits dating from 1850 to 1900. On display were several wedding dresses, veils, shawls, parasols, collars, bonnets, christening gowns and various other hand-made treasures. I marveled over a delicately made wedding dress and had a vision of myself wearing the lovely garment. It had a panel of wispy roses down the center, and the back of heavier lace flared out into a small train. The sleeves fell to just elbow length and I could imagine the lace caressing my arm as I reached out for a glass of champagne. §
700 exhibits date from between1850 and 1900
The Sheelin Antique Irish Lace Museum
Bellanaleck, Enniskillen Fermanagh BT92 2BA www.irishlacemuseum.com email@example.com Tel: +44 028 66348 052
snapshots of dublin
ga l l e r y
by Carla King
St. Stevens GREEN
Wild Writing Women feature
Salve for the Sole in Dingle
Dingle Peninsula is a windswept landmass of green meadows dotted with sheep and rocky hills that thrust like an arrowhead into the North Atlantic Ocean and Dick Mack’s is the spiritual hub of the region.
Dick Mack’s is across the street from the church. The church is across the street from Dick Mack’s.
These words painted on a white fence in Dingle pretty much sum up my view of the two driving forces of Ireland: the divine and drink rule of this nation in tandem—and here in County Kerry, their parallel destiny is delivered up with signature droll Irish wit. But beyond the wit lies truth, that the church is not any more of a landmark here in this Irish village than the legendary Dick Mack’s. This discovery was made in 2003; I had arrived for my first trip to Ireland for no less a momentous occasion than one of the O’Sullivan clan’s nuptials. The ceremony was to be held in Waterford, but logical traveler that I am, I decided to fly into Dublin, drive cross country to Galway and then curve down the Emerald Isle’s coast to sneak up on Waterford from the west. En route I drove along the coast of the Dingle Peninsula, a windswept landmass of green meadows dotted with sheep and rocky hills that thrust like an arrowhead into the
North Atlantic Ocean. I spent a couple of nights in the eponymous hub of the region, Dingle, a fishing village (and home to a mysterious visiting dolphin). It’s also known as a friendly tourist venue and center of traditional Celtic music and both of these facts were evident on my first night there. I visited John Benny’s Pub and listened to a band comprised of Irish bagpipes, recorder, guitar, and accordion. I determined that what their output lacked in euphony was made up for in enthusiasm. The next day I was walking down a Dingle stone-paved sidewalk with a gentleman contractor from San Francisco when we passed our first sign of intrigue—a sign that—
perhaps, Dorothy—we are not in Missouri anymore. In a stiff winter wind from the Atlantic, the oldfashioned painted signboard swung over the heads of passersby:“Foxy John’s Bar, Hardware, Bicycles.” For most men, the only thing missing from an invitation like that would be the promise of barmaids wearing nothing but tool belts. We quickly scrapped our plans for an intellectual exploration of the Dingle Peninsula’s ecosystem, and following the siren song of Harps and hammers, we made a sharp right turn into the establishment. Lo and behold, no false advertising here. On one side of the dusty room lay racks stocked with hardware and on the other was a bar with
a few beer taps and, of course, we had to have a pint to celebrate this serendipitous discovery. A handful of tradesmen stood around talking shop, drinking and watching a rugby game on TV. I was the conspicuous lone female amongst them. Now fortified against the December frost, we continued strolling through town until we came upon a shoe repair shop named Dick Mack’s. Not having walked the soles off our boots, we would not have paid heed to the inconspicuous storefront, had the very loud wail of Irish music not been seeping through every crack. We looked at each other and decided to investigate this shoe repair shop with a live band.
When we opened the door we found ourselves full in the middle of the room, and the eyes of the crowd stared quizzically at these interlopers who stood frozen in the doorway. The cramped space looked like the movie set of a 19th-century cobbler’s shop, the wooden shelves adorned with leather goods, and like Foxy John’s, on one side of the small room was a bar. Also in the room were jammed about 70 people listening to the music—banjos, fiddles, recorders, drums—with seemingly someone new whipping out an instrument every few seconds. I felt like a complete ass, but there was nothing to be done now except wade through the throng and look for a hole to drop into. Luckily my anxiety was wasted.
Within 15 minutes some of the patrons introduced themselves. One bearded gentleman who appeared to be in his 50s, Vin Pender, invited us to his birthday party which was being held at 7:00 that evening. I wondered silently about his dour expression, so unlike his jolly friends, especially considering it was his birthday. But I shrugged it off and ordered a Guinness at the bar, then discovered the snug, a secluded curtained corner where the womenfolk used to hide and drink during the era when they were banned from pubs.
It was when we left that I paused to read the sign on the fence informing us that Dick Mack’s was across the street from the church and vice versa; something about the assuredness of this position, that this shoe repair pub saw itself on equal footing with St. Mary’s Church, made me smile. Here it was, the sacred and the profane, across the street from each another. That evening we made our way to Vin’s party at the Marina Inn and we were touched to be greeted like long-lost friends.The hosts offered us complimentary food, seafood
tagliatelle or Irish stew.They were so good that I ate both as I watched thousands of Guinness disappear. Much to my dismay, I also witnessed thousands of cigarettes on fire, this in the heady day before smoking was banned in Ireland’s pubs. By about 10:30 a haze covered the room to where I thought I’d need a seeing-eye dog to find the ladies’. The musicians who rule Dingle continued to ply their trade, with people arriving toting all manner of traditional instruments, joining the session randomly, then walking off, in a sort of seamless marathon of Celtic tunes.I talked to several of Vin’s friends and as the night wore on and the drink kicked in, their behavior became increasingly maudlin and I learned why: he had terminal cancer and was most likely celebrating his last birthday.
Back earlier that day when I first met Vin at Dick Mack’s, he had asked the reason for my visit to Ireland and I told him I was there for a wedding. “Well, I hope your friend’s wedding fares better than the one that was across the street. It only lasted half an hour. This American woman married an Irishman and they got into a fight on the way to the reception and she went straight to the airport and caught a plane back to the States.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is probably why Dick Mack’s is across the street from the church—just in case you need it. Within a few feet you can find assorted repairs for your soul and your sole. §
Wild Writing Women what goes around
Click to hear the author read a short segment of this essay.
Night Train to Limerick
From the travel sketchbook of Serena Bartlett
I don’t want to fear change. So, when I get the chance to see a new place, I try to give that place the chance to breathe. I let the colors vibrate a little stronger, heeding a few precautions, but otherwise let the wind take me where it will.
The night train was changing tracks heading out of Dublin. I wrestled through a crowd of men with beer cans loitering in the corridor and queued for the toilet behind a woman drenched in perfume. Our line swung in synch with the shifting car, and the cans of beer started swaying to the augmented sounds of men singing pub songs in at least three different keys simultaneously. Finally it was my turn and I took a deep breath before entering the bathroom. In my rush to make the train, I’d forgotten how comically unpleasant on-board latrines can be. My business done, I headed back to my seat, which was flanked by partygoers from all walks of life. I squeezed between a dark window, and a man with a green plaid tie and disheveled hair. The usual laptops and daily papers found on most commuter trains were replaced by flasks and
pints and cheap gossip magazines with the corner turned down for the page-four girls—the porn section of the tabs. After drinking a polite pint with my new mates, the rigors of the week caught up with me and I fell asleep, wedged between the speeding darkness and a train car of revelers. While my mind dozed, my body continued to travel. I was finally going deep into Ireland, headed to legendary Limerick. It must have been after one a.m. when I finally departed the train in Limerick, and twisted through the throngs of deeply-accented night crawlers. As I moved towards the station’s exit, I noticed several party-ers dressed head to toe in green. St. Patrick’s Day was in a day or two, but still I could not fully account for this level of celebratory drinking and dressing.
Leaving the station, I pulled a crumpled list of five hostels from my back pocket and tried to make out the penciled directions by the light of a wrought iron streetlamp. I went from hostel to hostel, and like Joseph wandering through Bethlehem, I found none of Limerick’s budget lodgings to have space available. The city was full. Before leaving Oakland I had made little preparation for the trip, other than an Internet search for local hostels and a general query of some highlights for the short trip west from
my post just south of Dublin. I could have booked some lodgings, made a guidebook itinerary, and followed maps to museums and restaurants. I could have researched local language, sports and festivities that would have remedied my comprehension problems with the locals. I could have had a credit card for emergencies. Now, when Limerick’s hostel doors were shut to me, when the annual national football match between Scotland and Ireland coincided with St. Paddy’s Eve (apparently as big a celebration as the day itself ), when the only rooms available were proper hotels with coffee, toast, beans and runny scrambled eggs served to guests in the morning, I had no funds to buy such luxuries. But there wasn’t much I could do at that moment about my lack of a recognizable insignia on a small rectangular piece of plastic. I sat in the hostel lobby abating my upset by pondering the night and the cause of the commotion. For the first time since my arrival I really looked around me and noticed what was going on. Along a row of fantastic
stately structures, lit-up with colored spotlights, were lines of people with matching football scarves, awaiting entry to some nearby nightclub. Inside, the man at the hostel counter was mumbling in incoherent Irish about the no-good footie fans, how they’d never be let into a pub with all their “colors” on. All they wanted to do was brawl, he said. Or at least I think that’s what he said. My eyes trailed further down the dim street, past the scarves, where green-hued figures congregated. A cluster of pubs welcomed these early St. Patrick’s Day celebrators, luring them with giveaways for every few pints of Guinness or Murphy’s they could down. A man tooted on a plastic piano-flute and another waved around a banner reading,
“Where’s the craic?” meaning in Irish slang, “where’s the fun?” As I gazed down the street, I was dazzled by the genuine excitement exhibited on the revelers’ faces, and at the variety of ways in which they spent the night. Some were glued to television screens shouting for football teams, others wrapped green tissue paper around their Guinness fedoras. I had an insight that Ireland had a lot in store for me. As soon as I had left my worries behind and opened up to the unexpected entertainment around me, a kind-looking woman flashed past the hostel counter, dropping her room keys on the desk and conveyed to the clerk that she was leaving.
There was room for me in Limerick after all. The rest of my trip was dynamite. I met a sweet German girl with pink and purple hair who drove me up the west coast a few days later. When I returned to Limerick I met my first love. (Funnily enough, he was Scottish). Ireland had sung to me like the emblematic harp I kept noticing on everything from flags to bags of crisps, the local term for potato chips. Certainly the style in which someone travels—indeed, in which someone prepares for a trip—is an extension of her personality, perhaps a magnifying glass view of it.
Though some may criticize my laid-back approach of planning and deem it unsafe, or nerve-wracking, I offer this: Could I have planned any better? I arrived when my destination was alive with celebration, had an excellent personal tour of two cities and some towns in between, and met a man who changed my life in so many positive ways. My experience in Limerick made me wonder how thoroughly-planned itineraries could even be journeys at all. Travel lets us be new people—no regular morning coffee spot, no commute where familiar roadways and train schedules and daily rhythms rush by in a blur.
There is so much chance waiting to happen, crystallized in that small segment of time when we are able to just get up and go. So why map out every moment? Why not leave room for new things to happen—unexpected things? Isn’t it the startling and unusual events that paint watercolor washes on the black and white photos of our lives? On my journey to Limerick, I learned that it pays to give a new place the chance to breathe. I let the colors vibrate a little stronger, heeding a few precautions, but otherwise letting the wind take me where it will. In Limerick’s cold, moist fog, a kind of phenomenal freedom alighted on my shoulder. Some may call it an angel, I don’t pretend to know. But I have tried not to mirror that damp weather with a shroud of my own worries and fears. §
pillows & plates in Dublin
Dylan Hotel & Still Restaurant
The place for high tea
Grafton Street Cafe
Please, may I have another?
ew re vi
THE FITZWILLIAM HOTEL: DUBLIN
AN INN AT THE CrOSSrOADS
by Cathleen Miller
If the ultimate criteria for a piece of real estate is Location! Location! Location! then the Fitzwilliam is an ideal choice for a Dublin stay.
If the ultimate criteria for a piece of real estate is Location! Location! Location! then the Fitzwilliam is an ideal choice for a Dublin stay. Across the street lies a mossy Eden known as St. Stephen’s Green, where the nature-minded can have a blissful stroll. If you are more interested in a little retail therapy, then at the corner begins Grafton Street, an avenue lined with the tony shops of the town and enough pubs and tearooms to keep you fortified. The rest of the city, is easily accessible by the DART light rail, which has a stop right outside the lobby door.
The Fitzwilliam itself represents the New Dublin, a hip international crossroads of cultures more reminiscent of 1960s London than the quaint pint-by-the-fire inn of your grandmother’s Ireland. The lobby sports polished stone floors and sleek modern furnishings, but you can still have your pint-by-the fire, albeit one framed by a stainless steel mantle. The hotel lounge is a throbbing night spot for the young Dubliner business crowd and travelers alike. A full Irish breakfast is served at Citron, located on the mezzanine level. Like most first-rate European hotel restaurants, they cater to an array of tastes, with offerings ranging from yoghurt to sliced tomatoes. Meself, I opted for the porridge, a welcome antidote to the damp weather, and brown bread served with that heavenly Irish butter. However, the room’s retinasearing chartreuse color scheme had the wee-bit-hungover wearing her sunglasses to survive dawn’s decorative assault.
Over steaming cups of tea at CITRON, we compared notes on one of our favorite themes: encounters with the two hot Argentine concierges.
Each morning the WWW all gathered at Citron to plan our day. Over steaming cups of tea and coffee, one of our favorite topics of conversation was pampering ourselves with the hotel’s pomades in luxurious marble loos with tubs fit for a spa. We confessed to taking multiple baths each day, and this made the California girls, fresh from a drought-ridden Golden State, feel better about Dublin’s daily downpour. We also compared notes on one of our other favorite themes: encounters with the two hot Argentine concierges. My favorite was Augustin, tall and broad-shouldered, who—dressed in his knee-length wool coat— looked like a wayfarer from another century. He had a courtly manner and I discovered that he was a poet and political exile. As I stared into those enormous green eyes, with flecks of brown like agate marbles, he recited one of the poems he’d written in English and confessed his literary influences were Jim Morrison and Johnny Cash.
Naturally I didn’t waste any time telling him I was a writer, too. What a coincidence! CLICK HERE TO VISIT Yes, the Fitzwilliam has location, but it’s the The Fitzwilliam Hotel St. Stephen's Green Dublin 2 hostelry’s human capital that I will think about +353 (1) 478 7000 whenever I remember my stay. § Fax +353 (1) 478 7878 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.fitzwilliamhotel.com
by Cathleen Miller
If the Fitzwilliam represents the New Dublin, then the Shelbourne very much represents the Old Dublin—a Georgian mansion across from St. Stephen’s Green, with Beaux Arts details and timeless ambiance.
I have made a habit of going for tea in the great hotels of the world, not only because I crave the stimulating beverage, but the practice allows me to languish in the luxurious environment of a place I can only afford for a couple of hours versus a whole night. And the Shelbourne did not disappoint. Jacqueline and I were feeling a bit worn from the frenzied round of sightseeing, pub crawling, bath soaking and late sleeping that our Dublin stay had entailed. After spending the afternoon packing before our departure to Crom Castle—while the more ambitious decided to cram in one last museum—we decided to treat ourselves to high tea and strolled around the Green to the Shelbourne. The ritual was the epitome of soothing refinement, sitting on overstuffed couches by a coal fireplace, and admiring the room’s décor: crystal chandeliers, filigree crown moldings, a marble mantle, paneled walls adorned by damask wallpaper—all the way down to the marquetry of our tea table laid with Frette linens. We sipped our tea with pinkies appropriately erect, and munched salmon and cucumber sandwiches. We slathered the scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Live for today—who knows, we could die tomorrow! All the while our laughter provided the libretto for the piano recital coming from the baby grand in the corner. When we were finished, I sank back into the cushions while Madam Jacqueline read our tea leaves. They predicted we would indeed live long and happy lives, and this news made me smile at the thought I could return to the Shelbourne.
27 St. Stephen’s Green Dublin 2 +353 (1) 663 4500
Bewley’s Grafton street Cafe
A new look for An old fAvorite
by Jacqueline Harmon Butler
The oldest cafe in town, this hangout for the literati was a setting in Joyce’s The Dubliners.
Built in 1927, Bewley’s coffee and tea café was a haunt of James Joyce and the Dublin literati, and even before that it housed a school where Richard Brinsley Sheridan and The Duke of Wellington studied. So when new management took over and wanted to revamp this landmark, historicminded Dubliners were dubious. They needn’t have worried. The rain was bucketing down as I made my way up Grafton Street to the cafe, which has been a favorite of mine since my first trip to Ireland in 1978. Inside it was cozy and warm and smelled of freshly-roasted coffee and the sticky buns I used to enjoy so much for breakfast. The long tables and benches had been replaced with smaller tables and chairs, giving the place a more intimate feel.
Dubliners were dubious, but for naught.
While preserving its finest traditions, Ireland’s oldest café has now been further enhanced by one of the country’s most successful and innovative restaurateurs. The old Oriental Room is now the Bewley’s Cafe Theatre, and has become an exciting stage for lunchtime drama, evening cabaret, jazz, and comedy. I was pleased to be in familiar surroundings and excited to try the two new, award-winning restaurants. The upscale Mackerel specializes in fish dishes, and the moderately-priced Café Bar Deli serves pizza, pasta and salads. Downstairs at the Café Bar Deli I ordered a glass of Chianti. Its fruity, herbal taste was a perfect companion to my thin-crust wild mushroom pizza and crisp Caesar salad. For dessert I couldn’t resist my old favorite, Affogato, which is a glass of espresso coffee with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Thus fortified, I was ready to brave the rain again for the walk back to my hotel. As I strolled, I relished the feeling of satisfaction and relief one feels after visiting an old friend, and Bewley’s Cafe & Theater 78/79 Grafton Street finding her looking exceedingly well. §
Dublin 2, Ireland Tel: +353 (1) 672 7720
Lay Lady Lay
A night with dylAn
by Pamela Michael
The measure of a truly great hotel is not in the quotidian tasks, no matter how elegantly performed, but in the way the staff responds to the unexpected.
In the posh world of five-star hotels...
In the posh world of five-star hotels, guests expect a certain level of cosseting and proficiency for their money. The best hotels have made a science of hospitality; they purr with a finetuned efficiency that promises comfort and ease. They offer a welcome oasis for weary travelers who arrive battered by the fiendish beast of 21st-century air travel. The measure of a truly great hotel, however, is not in the quotidian tasks, no matter how elegantly performed, but in the way the staff responds to the unexpected. The designer-garbed “Welcome Team” at Dylan, Dublin’s swanky new hotel, was put to the test in a big way (and passed with grace and aplomb) when the six Wild Writing Women arrived in a rainstorm to find that we had only one reservation. Without rustling one designer feather, Rooms Manager Simon Cunnich calmly ushered us into the hotel’s wildly colorful Dylanbar for drinks while he sorted things out. A couple of complimentary Kir Royales later, we were escorted to our individual rooms, where our respective luggage was waiting.
And what rooms they were! Massive antique beds with Frette linens. Plasma TVs. iPods. (The MP3 players come loaded with Dylan’s mix of songs. You can use them in the speaker base or take them with you as you go about Dublin.) More high tech wonders included a Bang & Olufsen phone that I at first thought was a space age vibrator of some sort. (Now that’s service, I thought! Hotels take note.) The mini-bar offered,
in addition to high-end beverages and snacks, a disposable camera, a copy of the Kama Sutra and an intimacy kit, details of which I will leave to the imagination. Dylan’s bathrooms are huge; most feature both a full-sized tub and separate shower. The tile floors are heated and the fancy Italian
Etro toiletries come in full-size containers. All 44 rooms in the Victorian-era hotel—formerly the old Royal Hospital Nurses Home—are unique. Some are ultra modern, some whimsical; many feature Belleek pottery, Ireland’s pride. All are extravagantly yet tastefully done, as one would
And what rooms they were!
expect in a $32 million dollar renovation. In addition to the hotel’s bold and stylish décor, much attention has been paid to service and amenities in this intimate four-story gem. The facility includes a cozy library, terraces for social and business gatherings, a meeting room and a full range of business services for the corporate traveler, as well as 24-hour desk and room service. The hotel’s restaurant, Still, is one of Dublin’s finest eateries. Dylan is located in the leafy, tony Ballsbridge neighborhood (home to many embassies) just south of the City Centre, and close to shoppers’ heaven Grafton Street, entertainment and dining destination Baggot Street, and St. Stephen’s Green. Room rates are definitely in the “splurge” category, beginning at $515 a night. The crackerjack multilingual staff had another opportunity to
demonstrate Dylan’s extraordinary level of service when we checked out the next day, some of us heading back to the States, others off to various European destinations. Just as her taxi to the airport arrived, Jacqueline discovered her leather jacket hadn’t been brought up to the room the night before with the rest of her things. We had earlier marveled at how the bellmen figured out which suitcase went to which room; we’d left everything in a huge wet pile in the lobby when we arrived, repairing to the bar for cocktails while the staff found rooms for us.
As the taxi waited, quick phone calls to the other Wild Writing Women determined that the jacket hadn’t been put in one of our rooms by mistake. Jacqueline was frantic, the taxi driver anxious to leave; an undercurrent of bellman malfeasance was beginning to emerge as Jacqueline struggled to grasp what might have happened to her favorite jacket. In the background, more phone calls were being made, staffers dispatched to check various places. Just when it seemed certain that the jacket was indeed gone for good, and Jacqueline about to
burst into tears, the manager had one last idea. He excused himself and ran off down the hallway, emerging a few minutes later with a sealed plastic bag, a note taped to the outside. “I remembered you’d gone into the bar just after arriving and thought you might have been wearing the jacket,” he announced, beaming. “You must have taken it off and perhaps it slipped onto the floor. The bar staff had it in their lost and found.” Five stars. Bright shiny ones. §
Dylan Eastmoreland Place Dublin 2 Ireland Tel: +353 (1) 660 3000 Fax: +353 (1) 660 3005 email@example.com www.dylan.ie
An oAsis of cAlm in the midst of A mizzle
by Jacqueline Harmon Butler
An elegant last supper in Dublin.
The staff took one look at us, ushered us into the lounge and handed us Kir Royales.
The Wild Writing Women arrived at the Dylan Hotel a bit road weary as a result of driving three-hours from Crom Castle in Northern Ireland, then navigating the dreaded Dublin rush hour traffic. We dragged our luggage and ourselves two blocks through a mizzle to the lobby of the Dylan, where the staff took one look at us, ushered us into the comfortable lounge and served us Kir Royals. We had planned to go over to the Temple Bar area for dinner but when we spotted the hip-looking décor at the Dylan’s restaurant named Still, we opted to stay put. Once we had gussied up, we followed the host to our table, our shoes clicking on the smooth marble floor. Soft shades of cream on the tablecloths and chairs, accented by touches of gleaming stainless steel, created a modern, elegant atmosphere. The rather organic-looking
white leather high-backed chairs enveloped us in comfort and created an air of intimacy around the tables. We browsed the menu while sipping tall, cool flutes of champagne and studied the appetizers. I chose pan-fried foie gras with braised rhubarb and star anise. It was soft and smooth and literally melted in my mouth. Of course we also just had to try the house-made salmon gravlax with avocado mousse and crab. It was delectable. For our main course we chose a medley of offerings: saddle of lamb with a sauce of pancetta and parsley mousse accented with baby eggplant, roast Irish beef fillet with wild mushroom ravioli, roast black-leg chicken accented with a morel purée, Boulangère otatoes, and fresh peas, and for our vegetarian, a delicious medley of roasted asparagus, mushrooms, eggplant and potatoes concocted at her request. The dishes were all elegantly prepared and presented. We especially enjoyed little glasses of various flavored foams served as palate cleansers between courses. A ruby hued Côte du Rhone perfectly accented our delicious feast. It tasted of sunshine and herbs and the fragrance reminded us of the South of France and the rich, dark terroir of the region. Still’s Executive Chef Padraic Hayden is committed to using only the freshest ingredients, and his favorite dishes to prepare are those using locally caught fish, such as salmon and cod, or locally farmed meats and fowl. He enjoys pairing his fish with sumptuous ingredients, such as in his roasted sea bream served with poached oyster, shellfish and cucumber blanquette, and caviar.
The Wild Writing Women love desserts and, after much deliberation, decided to try the Valrhona chocolate fondant mousse with a delicately flavored lavender ice cream. It was so tasty that we ordered a second scoop. We lingered over our last supper in Dublin before the long journey home to San Francisco the next morning, ordering a second bottle of wine to reminisce about our two weeks together exploring Ireland. We’d enjoyed many suppers, some here in Dublin, some prepared in the north at Crom Castle by ourselves or the staff, and many pub meals. But our dinner at Still was our most expensive and most elegant meal of them all. How fitting to celebrate our last evening on the Emerald Isle this way! §
STILL: in the Dylan Hotel Eastmoreland Place, Dublin 2L Ireland Tel: +353 (1) 660 3000 | Fax: +353 (1) 660 3005 firstname.lastname@example.org | www.dylan.ie
Eats Worth Braving a Staunch Mizzle
by Suzanne LaFetra
First came soup, of course, because it was raining. Potato leek, of course, because it was Ireland. Silky and perfect, of course, because it was Gruel.
The doorman of the Fitz william Hotel eyed me suspiciously. “ Ye sure ye want to go there, miss?” I nodded, me the over- enthusiastic, direc tionallychallenged California traveler who was so well prepared for her trip that she didn’t even pack an umbrella. I cracked open my brand new Lonely Planet guidebook and pointed. “ They say it ’s great!” I chirped, as a few fat raindrops plopped on the page.
He traced my route on the map, then offered me something I needed even more than his warm I rish smile: an umbrella. As I wandered through Temple Bar the rain came down harder. M izzle, the I rish call it. I glanced at the sk y, then the guidebook again. “Something special,” it read. “ Wor th the effor t.” I was zigzagging past Trinit y College when it star ted sk eltering (a pleasant word for an unpleasant horizontal rain). I turned left, crossed Dame Street, then crossed over again, opened my now wet guidebook for the eleventh time.
And even though the name Gruel doesn’t evoke the most mouthwatering fare, it was indeed wor th the effor t. For star ters, it wasn’t
mizzling or sk eltering inside the tiny, funk y, heavenly-smelling diner. The unpretentious menu offered ten dishes, all under $16 US. H ip -look ing 20-somethings crowded around mismatched tables where they chowed on delicate crepes and thick , steaming stews and spik y salads. A grumpy Spanish waitress sliced a loaf of bread, so poufy it look ed car toonish. Not a single bowl of lumpy porridge in sight. First came soup, of course, because it was raining. Potato leek , of course, because it was I reland. Silk y and per fec t, of course,
because it was Gruel. I can’t do justice to the ecstasy of the car toon bread with butter. Suffice it to say that savoring the butter of I reland is lik e enjoying an heirloom tomato from your garden after chok ing down mushy supermark et beefsteaks all winter. You’ve forgotten butter could taste
I n honor of my waitress, I ordered the tor tilla. The Spanish tor tilla is really an omelet, not even a distant cousin to the flat, Mexican corny circles we Californians k now and love. Gruel’s tor tilla was a sumptuous frittata; a delicate pairing of eggs and potatoes dotted with sweet tomato chunks and chive crème fraiche. The smok ed salmon draped across the top resembled daint y pink tongues, and all came adorned with a mantel of zingy rock et and lac y dill. I wish I had saved room for the Cajun corn fritters with avocado and lime salsa. Or the mushroom and goat cheese bruschetta. Or Gruel’s specialt y—rolls—an unpretentious name that belies the tempting mix of flak ey crusts stuffed full of slow-roasted organic meats. And when I burst through Gruel’s doors again 20 minutes later, I wish I’d been there to pick up a to - go platter for dinner. But I had only forgotten my umbrella. §
6 8 a D a m e St re e t D u b l i n , I re l a n d +353 (1) 670-7119
G ru e l
links & resources
to help you find your way
by Suzanne LaFetra
Start Planning Your Trip
A sel ec t list of links
Planning for any trip can be both thrilling and daunting, especially on the ever-widening World Wide Web. Here are the links we lik e. (Click on the URL while you’re connec ted to the I nternet and we’ll link you up automatically.)
Travel Documents Getting There Where to Stay Car Rentals Sláinte! What’s Happening Connec t
start mapping your journey
Discover I reland is the I rish Tourism Board’s site, full of accommodations, special offers, and travel-planning tips.
Lonely Planet Guides to Ireland
Lonely Planet guides are a great way to get familiar with the I rish landscape, to plan out the where, when and why for a trip.
Irish Abroad: Visa & Passpor t Information
Click the I rishAbroad link above to get the essentials on visa and passpor t information for travel to I reland.
Travel Ireland: Airlines
TravelI reland.org helps you get to the Emerald Isle, with direc t links to tick et purchasing.
where to stay
GoI reland.com gives you a listing of B&Bs, hotels, farmhouses, and hostels with availabilit y calendars
My Guide to Ireland.com: Castle -Hotels
Find a castle, manor house, or B&B.
Reser ve a rental car, find general driving info, and a glossar y of driving terms (in case you didn’t k now the cubby box means the glove compar tment).
Irish Car Rental
Here are some good tips about driving laws, cell phone use, and international drivers’ license information.
Click for a decent listing of I reland eateries.
Ireland Pub Guide
Find a place to share a pint.
Discover Ireland: What ’s On & Irish Tourism: Festivals
The t wo links above will give you lists of events, festivals, and other I rish happenings.
Irish Music Magazine: Festivals
This magazine will give you details on concer ts, festivals, and music in I reland. T ravel Blogs: Ireland A good collec tion of I reland travel blogs.
Dochara: Cell & Telephone Communications Info
Find out if your cell phone will work in I reland. Get info on renting phones, calling cards, and more.
Le Travel Store: Voltage Info & Adaptors
Find voltage information, and get help buying adaptors.
Wild Writing Women
AUDIO ASIDE Listen to a seven-minute Audio Aside of the Wild Writing Women talking about our favorite moments in Ireland.
Lisa Alpine Jacqueline Harmon Butler Carla King Suzanne LaFetra Pamela Michael Cathleen Miller
with special guests
Serena Bartlett Diane LeBow
Curiosity about what is beyond the curve of the horizon has fueled Lisa Alpine’s voyaging since she left home at 18 to live in Paris. She has owned an import company (Dream Weaver Imports in San Francisco), published a newspaper (The Fax in Marin County, CA), written a travel column for 12 years for the Pacific Sun, and taught dance and writing workshops around the world for two decades. Lisa’s essays appear in numerous anthologies, including I Should Have Stayed Home, Hyena’s Laughed at Me and Now I Know Why, and Lonely Planet’s Tales From Nowhere. She’s working on a new anthology, My Exotic Life: Laughing Rivers, Dancing Drums, and Tangled Hearts. Lisa teaches writing at The Writing Salon in San Francisco and at her home studio in Marin County. Click here to visit her on the web.
JACQUELINE HARMON BUTLER
Jacqueline Harmon Butler is the co-author of the bestselling sixth edition of The Travel Writer’s Handbook. Her work may also be found in many newspapers, magazines, and e-zines all across the USA, Canada and Europe, including the Miami Herald, New Orleans TimesPicayune, Dallas Morning News, Kansas City Star, San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Star, La Sicilia, La Nazione and Il Tirreno. She has received a variety of awards including the 2007 North American Travel Journalists Association Runner-Up Award for Best Travel Article Written For Internet, the 2003 Golden Linchetto Prize for writing on Lucca, Italy, and the 2002 International Press Award for writing on Sicily. Jacqueline’s essays are also featured in the Travelers’ Tales anthologies. Click here to visit her site.
Carla King is best known for her solo motorcycle journeys around the world riding indigenous motorcycles like China’s Chang Jiang, India’s Enfield Bullet and Italy’s Moto Guzzi. She is also very involved in high tech, as a writer, editor, and web designer in Silicon Valley. In her first attempt at travel writing, Carla won first prize at the Book Passage Travel Writer’s Conference, and an assignment to create one of the world’s first realtime Internet series. In fact, her 1995 American Borders dispatches are the oldest realtime travelogues on the Internet today. She produces and designs our magazines, including the Taking Flight issue, which won two national awards for best online travel magazine. Carla’s Motorcycle Misadventures Minute and The Miss Adventuring Podcast are her latest high-tech ventures. Her book American Borders is in its second printing; next up is a book about two journeys through China. Click here to visit her website.
Suzanne LaFetra’s work has appeared in numerous literary journals and newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Christian Science Monitor, Brevity, Skirt, Ladybug, Rose & Thorn, Smokelong Quarterly, Pearl, Literary Mama, and on KQED FM. Her essays have been included in fourteen anthologies, including the Chicken Soup and Travelers’ Tales series. Her journalism credits include many Bay Area publications including the East Bay Monthly, Diablo Magazine, Solano Magazine, and the Contra Costa Times. She wrote the weekly “Arts & Leisure” feature for seven Knight Ridder newspapers during 2004 and 2005. Suzanne’s writing has garnered over a dozen literary prizes, including the Grand Prize from the University of Maine’s Ultra Short Fiction contest, first prize from Pilgrimage Magazine, runner-up for the XJ Kennedy Award for Creative Nonfiction, and honorable mention in the 25th Hemingway Annual Short Story competition. She is currently at work on a memoir about her love affair with Mexico. Click to visit Suzanne’s website.
Pamela Michael is a writer, education reformer and radio producer. She is the award-winning editor of numerous books, including: The Gift of Rivers, River of Words: Young Poets and Artists on the Nature of Things, A Mother’s World, A Woman’s Passion for Travel, and River of Words: Poetry & Images in Praise of Water. Her articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Odyssey, Salon.com, Shape, Orion Afield, Resurgence and others. She won first place in the Book Passage Travel Writers Conference with her story, “Khan Men of Agra,” which has been widely anthologized. She hosts a travel show on KPFA FM in the San Francisco Bay Area, and her earlier radio work includes writing and producing a four-part series on Buddhism in the United States, narrated by Richard Gere. Co-founder, with Robert Hass, of the much-honored River of Words organization, Pam has worked for decades to help youth make creative connections to the earth. Click here to visit River of Words.
Cathleen Miller is the internationally bestselling author of two works of nonfiction: her memoir of life in the country, The Birdhouse Chronicles, and the story of Somali activist Waris Dirie, Desert Flower. Cathy’s work has been translated into 55 languages. Her essays have appeared in the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Cimarron Review, Old House Journal, Reader’s Digest, and the Travelers’ Tales San Francisco anthology. She won the Society of American Travel Writers Gold award for her work as editor-in-chief of this magazine. Currently she’s at work on Champion of Choice, a biography of UN leader Dr. Nafis Sadik, a project that has taken her around the world. Cathy is a professor of creative writing at San José State University.
Serena Bartlett (“Night Train to Limerick”) has lived and traveled in more than 25 countries, always keeping her eyes open for the most authentic cultural experiences. She is an award-winning author and an active spokesperson for lively, inspiring and tasty ways to tread more lightly on the planet. Her book, Oakland: Soul of the City Next Door, was the first offering from GrassRoutes Travel Guides, which she founded. GrassRoutes Travel focuses on urban eco-travel and features insider tips to the most tantalizing businesses and activities that give back to the community, environment and local economy. Ethical journalism and uninhibited travel writing have always been important to Serena, and she is a regular contributor to a number of national and local Bay Area publications. Click to visit the GrassRoutes Travel site.
Diane LeBow (“Castle Leslie in the 1980s”), Ph.D., president of the Bay Area Travel Writers, professor emerita and award-winning travel writer and photographer, is based in San Francisco. The recipient of grants from the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, in 2007 she delivered the Zagoren Lecture on “Women of Afghanistan and the World: Stories and Photos from the Road,” at Rutgers University. Her essays have appeared in Salon.com, Washington Times, Chicago Sun Times, VIA, Skirt, Bride Magazine, and are featured in anthologies from Travelers’Tales, Seal Press, and Cleis Press. She won the Travelers’ Tales’ Gold Award in 2007 for the Best Story of a Romance on the Road; the Bay Area Travel Writers’ Bronze Award for Best Story in an Anthology; the Silver Award for Photography; and their Gold Award for Best Travel Writers’ Website 2008. Click here to visit her website.
by Cathleen Miller
Funny that you should ask, dear reader, because this is a question that we are always trying to answer ourselves. The short retort is: We are a clan of travel writers based in the San Francisco Bay Area. But how did we become the Wild Writing Women— that’s what you really want to know, isn’t it?
Jacqueline, Pamela, Suzanne, Cathleen, Carla, Lisa
In the Beginning
Back in 1992, the group began innocently enough when I took a travel writing class from Don George, then travel editor for the San Francisco Examiner. Why I did this is still unclear, as I had never written anything and I had never really traveled. But I decided to pretend to be the woman I wanted to be, and it had been a lifelong dream of mine to see the world; I saw travel writing as a way to fund the fantasy. During the course of the 10-week seminar, I met other women who were much better writers than I (easily done under the circumstances) and coerced them into starting a writing group by offering to cook dinner for them once a month at my home. Thus the format was set in motion that continues 16 years later: we meet on the fourth Wednesday of the month, to cook, gossip, drink wine—oh yes—and critique our writing. Speaking for myself, I was thrilled to be surrounded by talented females who were interested in discussing something besides toasters and tit jobs; these voyageuse spun tales of paddling canoes down the Amazon and peddling bicycles across Africa. I might not have been in their league, but at least I had found a league I wanted to play in.
The origins of our name are mired somewhere in the mists of memory, merlot, and word games that swirl around a particular bar in San Francisco, much like fog rising out of the bay. The London Wine Bar, located in the city’s Financial District, was a frequent hangout in the early days of our then nameless sect. There we drank, argued, brainstormed, entertained our favorite editors, hosted our Winter Solstice get-togethers, and broke into spontaneous dancing to the surprise of the Wine Bar’s stock exchange patrons. One night, somewhere in between drinking six bottles of wine and planning an expedition to Mount Kailash, word games surrounding the letter “W” ended with a moniker that stuck: Wild Writing Women. As the years went by we helped each other evolve from literary wannabes to professional writers. Adding to our maturation, new members like Pam joined us; she was already a seasoned veteran, editing anthologies for Travelers’ Tales. We slowly saw a change in the conversations around the dinner table—from questions about how to write a query letter, to queries about good locales for book launch parties. Our gals began to write for some of the top periodicals in the nation, have their work anthologized, publish their own books, and move into the role of mentor, teaching other women how to write.
The creation of community has long been a goal of our group, one we have pursued through a variety of channels. At some point all of us have led writing workshops. In fact we have included a section in our magazine featuring the work of our aficionadas, “What Goes Around,” a title that symbolizes—not only the travel aspect of our material—but our reciprocal relationship of learning. This student/teacher rapport has been at the root of Lisa’s innovative approach for dance and poetry seminars. For decades she has held workshops in such exotic locales as the ancient kivas in New Mexico. The WWW put together our first writers’ conference at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco in 2003, and felt honored (and astonished) when an international crowd of women enrolled. One of our own devotees who attended that event, Suzanne, later went on to become a much-published writer and joined the WWW in 2007. There was some sweet symmetry to that conclusion, because Jacqueline has known Suzanne since she was born. In addition to the writing workshops, we launched a literary salon at the Monticello Inn at SF’s Union Square. For six years we met monthly, featuring guest speakers who
presented on a variety of topics relating to the scribes’ craft—from historical research for biographies to publicizing new releases. The best part of this routine was the opportunity to meet many of you in person; like the full moon, some men and women reappeared each month, and other strangers dropped by when visiting from Germany or Australia or… One of the miracles of our longevity has been existing long enough to see the expansion of our audience, from local readers of the San Francisco papers, to fanmail from folks in Brazil, India, Italy and Qatar—thanking us for what we’ve given them through the magic of the Internet. Our Web Dominatrix, Carla, has been a pioneer in technology since she was in pigtails, and just as she has for many a Silicon Valley corporation, she has given us the keys to this innovative medium, allowing us to build community with the women of the world.
w. n.com wwme :// o ttp gw h in rit w
Wild Writing Women, LLC In 2000, after one of our meetings we were drinking wine late into the night (do we detect a theme here?) and complaining—as most writers do—about a lack of outlets to publish the type of stories we wanted to write, i.e. great narratives, not the type of dry factual material that the travel editors of most mainstream publications seem to think people want to read.
But for a change something profitable came from this whining: a book was born. We decided to collect our favorite travel essays and compile an anthology which we titled Wild Writing Women: Stories of World Travel. At first we self-published the volume, and in what became a bit of a Bay Area literary legend, we sold 1000 copies in a week. Next we signed a contract with Globe Pequot who bought the rights to the collection. What we discovered along the way was that we enjoyed the artistic control that the self-publishing process entailed.
I remember reading a study on women’s leadership that was apropos to our experience: clusters of females function differently than men in that there is not one dominant leader. Rather we are more similar to fish. We will school based on signals from any one of the group, suddenly turning and following her lead. Our next course of action was to expand on the success of Stories of World Travel and form an LLC to explore more creative business ventures. We vowed that one of our missions was to empower other women, employing the same methods we had used to egg each other on as wayfarers and wordsmiths.
The creation of our online magazine marked a milestone in this goal. In fact the idea for an issue devoted to maiden voyages grew out of the readings we did to promote our anthology. Travel virgins from 18 to 80 would come to meet us and wistfully comment: “I wish I had the guts to do what you do—to take a trip alone….” It occurred to me that all they were missing was someone to teach them how to do this, and so we wrote down our own stories of early jaunts and the lessons we’d learned along the road.
We collected advice from some of the most prolific travelers we knew, like our pal Maureen Wheeler who founded Lonely Planet. The resulting issue, Taking Flight, won us two national awards for best online travel publication. The judges from the University of Missouri School of Journalism offered us high praise which could have come straight from our mission statement: “Wild Writing Women’s online magazine combines lively features and practical advice aimed at novice travelers. What makes Taking Flight particularly refreshing is its exploration of travel as a vehicle for empowerment and personal growth.” When you can control your ability to go where you like, you have taken a major step in controlling your destiny.
What’s it like to be a Wild Writing Woman? Down through the years our members have come and gone, and at present we have six intrepid souls in the tribe. The WWW’s composition is not static—it’s evolved and changed along with our lives, and our work always reflects those volatile lives. There is something incredibly bonding about reading each other’s stories. The result is that beyond our role as a writing group, we have become a loving—if dysfunctional!—family, six sisters who’ve guided each other through difficulties more hazardous than dangling modifiers.
To date the Ws have nursed each other through countless broken romances including divorces; it seems one of the occupational hazards for female travel writers is that it’s tough to leave a man tending the home fires. By the time you get back he’s either taken up with the trollop downstairs or burned the house down.
The Sisterhood has also responded to many a panicky email sent from a W alone, frightened, and sometimes stranded on the road, looking for help or merely reassurance from the people she knows will get it. Together we’ve navigated moving, robbery, career meltdowns, financial and natural disasters and a host of vehicular mishaps. (See Carla’s MotorcycleMisadventures.com site for an encyclopedic exploration of this topic). We’ve supported each other through a host of physical ailments ranging from liceinfestations to breast cancer, and cried on each other’s shoulders at the death of family, friends and our beloved pets. Now some of us are heading into the choppy waters of many women our age—the care of elderly parents.
While writing the above list I questioned perhaps we’d made the wrong decision and created trouble for ourselves by choosing a rather unorthodox lifestyle as adventurers along life’s highway. Maybe it would have been wise to take the safer route, the road more traveled? But I concluded our meandering had created few problems; rather we’ve merely suffered the same difficulties our gender faces universally. The truth is that many a woman whose sole travel consists of the well-worn path from cookstove to cradle has experienced all our woes—without the exquisite delights of being artists who have chronicled the world.
Traveling Companions One of the grandest treats we have experienced has been our group retreats with our friend Maureen Wheeler. These trips would never have occurred without our bon vivant social director, Jacqueline, who accomplishes the impossible: she herds the cats together so that we all land in the same corner of the galaxy during the same week. Along with Maureen, our menagerie has stayed in a ninth-century villa in Tuscany, boarding empty planes just days after 9/11, and simultaneously rejoiced and cried at the bittersweet mysteries of life. We have sipped Provencal rosés as we watched the sun set over the Cote d’Azur, the night shift (including moi) staying up all night telling stories, while the day shift rose at dawn to hike the steep trail down to the Mediterranean for a swim. We took ferries around the Greek Islands, eating at tavernas in the villages and shopping till our bags burst at the seams.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the WWW on the WWW, and that we can connect with you further along the road— whether it’s just the occasional visit to our website, subscribing to our free newsletter, downloading our magazine, ordering our books, or coming by to say hello at one of our public appearances. Our most fervent desire is that we’ll inspire you to be a wild woman in your own right, whether you write or not. §
to ck ct li ta c on ww c w he t
Thank you for traveling to Ireland with the Wild Writing Women
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