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The Emerald Isle Adventure

The Emerald Isle Adventure

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Published by: jerry kroth on Jun 29, 2010
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Roma’s Excellent Adventures, Part III: The Emerald Isle

God invented whiskey so that Ireland would not rule the world -Irish Proverb

In August, 2009 I traveled with my daughter, Maya, to Ireland. This tiny, lush, island is about the size of Indiana housing 5.5 million people, about a million of whom are from the EU, especially Poles, Lithuanians, and Czechs. In fact when I arrived in Dublin, a few days before Maya, I had trouble finding people who were Irish. It was a bit frustrating. Ireland is an absolutely historic place. It was first occupied by Neolithic peoples about 8000 BC followed by the Celts arriving about 500 BC, then the Vikings (800-1100
Celtic cross; a Celtic sun married with St. Patrick’s crucifix.

AD) held sway, replaced by the Normans, (1160- 1536). King Henry VII came in with a strong English influence from 1530, and The Irish took back their lands from the English formally in 1923.

One question I asked resulted in an important answer. I took a tour of lovely Wicklow, the bogs, and was mesmerized by the Irish countryside (see wheat below). After I finished my tour, I asked how in God’s name the Irish could have starved to death during the potato famine of 1846. The famine, caused by potato blight, lasted until 1852, took a million lives and lead to the mass emigration of hundreds of thousands of Irish to the U.S. My question was “In a land brimming with wheat, barley, cows, sheep, and with farmland so green irrigation was not even need, how could the decline of potatoes impact so many? Why couldn’t other staples have

taken up the slack?” The answer will surprise you. It wasn’t the potatoes so much as the English. The English landowners thought the Irish were barbarians, treated them much like slaves, and they simply exported most of the food, leaving the Irish with rotten potatoes to eat. The famine and starvation were fundamentally political! It gives quite an insight on why the Irish have an antipathy for the English to the point that they remained neutral during World War II, and are still agitating to get them out of Northern Ireland. Imagine exporting most of the indigenous food for profit and leaving the peasants to starve! I enjoyed Dublin’s Temple Bar area, lots of pubs, right across from the Liffey River. While I was sitting, relaxing my aching feet at Grogan’s pub (right), and having a bit of wine, an old man said in the most charming Irish lilt “Pardon me, my good friend, I don’t want to disturb you, but if you don’t mind my comment. I think you are a very contented man, very happy. I can see contentedness all across your face. You’ll likely live to be a ripe old age indeed.” Made me feel good. He himself was 84. People in Ireland are nice, exceptionally nice, sweet, and kind. In fact there is a bumper sticker that says “Because Nice Matters” I made a bus tour of the Wicklow mountains and found some beautiful areas. In one spot we stopped to look over a lake. This was the Guinness estate covering thousands of acres and two lakes. The water of the lake comes from the bogs and is colored a dark brown. It is drinkable and pure but looks like a hefty Guinness stout. As a matter of fact, the Guinness family, so taken by the lake, imported French sand so it would look exactly like a Guinness stout with a foamy top. (See right).

On the Wicklow mountains bus tour, we passed the sprawling homes of Daniel Day Lewis and some other celebrities. We then stopped in a place where St. Kevin became a hermit. He lived in a cave, was loved by the local people, and farmers slowly started to settle around him as he was believed to be holy with a special gift for treating sick animals. These are photos of the lush vegetation on the way to St. Kevin’s cave, plus a shot inside the 12th century church dedicated to him.

But I digress. This story began not in the Wicklow mountains but in Dublin and its delightful and picturesque pubs. The pubs are really as nice inside as out.

Maya and her girlfriend, Kathy in front of St. John Gogarty’s pub.

My adventure really began not in pubs but at Trinity College in the heart of Dublin Built about 50 years after Columbus discovered America, this Protestant College started admitting Catholics only in 1970. Its distinguished graduates include Samuel Beckett and scores of others. I took a short historical tour of the place with a guide who had just escorted John Roberts, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court through the same winding tour. (Roberts didn’t leave a tip, by the way). Ireland is known as the land of “Saints and scholars.” One story has it that playwright

Brendan Behan was drunk riding home from a pub on a bus late at night. An irate lady said to him on the bus “You’re a disgusting drunk!” His reply: “I may be drunk, but tomorrow I’ll be sober, and you’ll still be ugly!” What intrigued me about this place was the Long Room, a beautiful room of over 200,000 books the photographs of which always intrigued me. That’s what drew me there. Trouble is, it doesn’t look like the photo. It is dark, dusty, poorly lit, and no one goes there since the books are over 200 years old, filed not be authors name or Dewey decimal number, but by “size.” So it is virtually impossible to find a book. On top of that they wouldn’t allow photos. Skip Trinity if that is what is drawing you to this place. Trinity’s famous alumni include Jonathan Swift, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, and one of my favorite philosophers, George Berkley
All the choir of heaven and furniture of earth - in a word, all those bodies which compose the frame of the world - have not any subsistence without a mind….George Berkeley

Maya at Trinity College

Next stop was the Dublin Castle, the largest castle in Ireland, in the heart of Dublin. A nice tour. I learned the meaning of “saving face” and “losing face.” Seems the ladies of the court wore wax make-up. If they got too close to the fireplace, they “lost face.” If they stayed behind a fabric shield, they “saved face.”

The next day Maya arrived and we met in a sleek little village called Kilkenney about an hour south of Dublin. It is known as the most picturesque village in all of Ireland. We stopped to see the cute Kilkenny Castle. (below)

But then we took off in a rented car on a road trip and our first stop, unexpected and unplanned, was a visit to the Jonathan Swift estate. Our Gulliver’s Travels author, they say, was a bit mentally disturbed, but that is only a rumor. His estate covers probably 50 acres, and the house, now owned by a German woman, was impressive. She invited us in and we liked the layout a lot (below).

However, our major interest that day was in the Purcell castle. My mother, whose maiden name was Margaret Purcell, originally came from Ireland. Her grandfather was born there. So we asked where the Purcell’s were from—we knew it was the Kilkenny area— and we learned that Montague Purcell built a castle in about 1380. After his death, women were not allowed to own property, so the widow Purcell’s bad brother put her in a nunnery and took over the castle. We may be descended in one way or other from this DNA. Here is a picture of us in front of the Purcell Castle which is now a youth hostel. Located outside of Kilkenny, it’s now called Foulksrath, and the man in the photo is Jack Madden who took the time to tell us the whole story and was a delight to get to know.

Maya, me, and & Jack Madden at the Purcell Castle

Maya inside Purcell Castle

We departed the Purcell Castle and headed for a pre-historic monument I wanted to see. This is a so-called “capstone” gravesite (although no one really knows what it really is). It is out in a wheat field, has been dated to 2500 BC, and the Neolithic people who erected it managed to lift a 240,000 lb. stone into this mysterious configuration. Funny thing is that if you look hither and yon, all you see are fields, no rocks, no hills, no quarries, no rocks of any kind. So how did they get this rock and deliver it to this site? No answers at this time. The site is called Brownes Hill Dolmen

Two prehistoric sites (dolmens) also found in Denmark and France. We visited the one on the right

Maya and I then journeyed to where Jim’s wife, Veronica, was born. Veronica died two years ago and was born in a small Irish village called Graigenemanah (pronounced Greg Namanah). It was only about 30 miles from where my mother’s family originated in the Purcell Castle (go figure!). We had no anticipation that we would be able to actually find Veronica’s house, but we went to a pub and said “Do any of you know the Crowleys; Veronica Crowley’s father was a constable here about 50 years ago.” “Of course we do!” they said, and we were escorted to Veronica’s place of her birth, took photos, and met a guy named Liam Foley, a friend of her brother, Michael. He showed us around, plus a bicycle he made himself entirely out of wood (including the chain).

Random things: Of course there are things that just come out at random, so here goes. 1. Bog Man. I went to the museum of natural history and was looking for Bog Man,” an almost perfectly preserved Neolithic or Celtic man who had been buried in the bog. Here is the upper half of his torso, skin and fingernails intact. Roughly 2,000 years old.

2. Churches : The major cathedrals of Dublin were St. Patrick’s and Christ Church, both Anglican. I took a liking to another, however, not listed on the brochures, St. Augustines. It was stately and even more ornate inside.

3. Guinness: We went to the Guinness brewery for an incredibly interesting tour. Its advertising room alone is worth the visit: very creative and ingenious commercials down through the ages. The Brewery is celebrating its 250th year. Arthur Guinness signed a lease for the land for 45 pounds per year for 9,000 years! The copy of that unusual lease is proudly displayed in the brewery. We tasted draft, stout, and extra stout. About 3.6 billion pints are downed every day, and it was a delight. Trouble is I don’t like the taste. As you can see Maya felt differently.

4. Dublin’s shopping streets. We didn’t frequent these shops much, but there are loads of beautiful and crowded shopping streets that are filled with people, street musicians, and mimes. The guy painted black was singularly impressive!

5. The Irish literary tradition. Home or birthplace to Dylan Thomas, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, and Brendan Behan, you see frequent reminders in the sidewalk or on panes of glass, quotations, spread throughout the city. This one from James Joyce’s Ulysses is embedded in the sidewalk. 6. Obama’s health plan. I met a man on a bus who said that he lived in San Francisco for 20 years. He had a heart attack, insufficient medical insurance, and it cost him $70,000. He had to sell his property and move back to Ireland. He likes it here better he said. 7. Smokey and Corky. My Irish uncle, Jerome, “Uncle Jerry” was my namesake. He used to call my brother Corky and me Smokey when we were 3 and 5 years old. My brother, as an adult, developed a slight addiction to alcohol (Corky), and cigarettes, rather than alcohol, grabbed me by the “bullocks” thus the name Smokey. Uncle Jerry had incredible foresight. So when I saw a pub called Korky, I couldn’t resist. 7. Favorite area and time. My best “spot” was near Powerscourt, a shopping area with a good vibe, and I truly enjoyed resting from my walking tours and having an afternoon read and wine near Temple Bar. 8. Food: Ate traditional Irish dishes (Irish stew, about 4 times, bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potato), and my favorite, cottage pie (basically shepherd’s pie made from beef). Maya’s friends, Kathy & Vinnie, went out with us and Vinnie had “Coddle,” an interesting an tasty blend of sausages, vegetables, and cream. Best beer was Smithwicks at a pub in Kilkenny called Duiskes. Best desert also at Duiske’s pub: bread, ice cream and butterscotch. Incredible!

9. Just pretty things. I took pictures of pubs and buildings which I liked, just because I thought they were pretty. Here are a few.

10. Ballykissangel/ Avoca On my bus trip through the Wicklow mountains we stopped in a quaint village called Avoca. This is where they film Ballykissangel, a BBC-PBS TV program. Everyone in the little town has been an extra in the on-going series. Cute little place.

8. Poland. There are many EU citizens in Dublin, and I was singularly impressed with how many poles there were, including Polish stores and markets. Here’s one celebrating my 50% Polish DNA right in the heart of my Irish DNA:

8. Comedy club. On our last evening, Maya and I went to a comedy club. We had to wait for an hour, so we sat in a pub across the street and Maya peppered me for which fashions I liked and which I didn’t. An interesting game to play as you people watch. The comedy was exceptional. A perfect end to the trip.

So its time to say goodbye to this little adventure. How better than to put in a bit of the Irish harp and shamrock.

“If me aunt had any balls, she’d be me uncle!”

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