Old and “new” in Southwest Ireland

Skellig MIchael. The route in front of you is the one the monk's used.

Skellig MIchael. The route in front of you is the one the monk’s used.

Southwest Ireland, where we are staying for this week, is home to a number of

Monastery on Skellig Michael

Monastery on Skellig Michael

Neolithic monuments, as well as a few “newer” edifices.

From the ring of Kerry, the route around the Kerry Peninsula, Pat and our friends visited Skellig Michael, which rises 700 feet out of the ocean. The monastic ruins there are dated to the 6th Century.

Here’s her report:

Skellig Michael, a remote hunk of rock about 7 miles from the nearest port. Took us two hours on a trawler to arrive at the dock, which is only assessable in calm seas. A hike UP approximately 600 steps with steep dropoffs along the way and no

Horny resident of Skellig Michael

Horny resident of Skellig Michael

guardrails was hair-raising. The prize at the top was a centuries old monastery, which consisted of a series of beehive huts perched 700 feet above the ocean. This settlement had been occupied by about 15 monks the community surviving one way or another for 500 years. We were lucky to be there during puffin nesting season, which made the trip all the more memorable.

Also from Kerry, we saw this prehistoric ring fort, Staigue Fort, built sometime between 500 B.C.E. and 300 B.C.E. without the aid of mortar or cement. While there is some disagreement about the specific use of forts like this one – there are others on the Ring of Kerry and on the Beara Peninsula – one thought is that a wealthier family could hold up in the fort as protection against raiding hunter gatherers who hadn’t gotten

Ring fort on the ring of Kerry

Ring fort on the ring of Kerry

the message yet about settling down to farm crops and domesticate animals. And this area of Ireland is rich in copper, essentially to making bronze tools, which would have been helpful in shaping stones like these.

The area also is home to a number of stone circles. There is one a few hundred yards from our front door here in Kenmare, and we saw another on the Beara Peninsula.

To the more modern:

I played golf on the Ring of Kerry course, which affords beautiful views of Kenmare Bay and a rough so deep that it apparently hasn’t been cut since Oliver Cromwell played here in a foursome with James II. My playing partner, Jimmy Leake, and I, both had to buy extra balls at the turn because we had lost so many in the rough – which starts immediately off the fairway. The course sells packages of used balls, 7 for about 7 Euros, and it occurred to me that they have found an extra revenue source.

Pat and our friends used Ireland’s only cable car to travel from the tip of the Beara Peninsula to Dursey Island. Having braved the

Cable car to Dursey. I passed.

Cable car to Dursey. I passed.

rope bridge on the Antrim Coast– see our earlier post – I felt secure enough in my masculinity to stay on the safe side and watch the cable car from high ground. It only takes 15 minutes each way, of course that doesn’t count the times – like yesterday – when the operator decided to cut out of his shift early and head for tea. Pat and the others were left to wait on the island side until his relief showed up.

 

Dizzying heights, and emotional low points

I am taking the day off from travel to catch up on the blog, laundry, reading and napping, while Pat and friends are off to the Kerry Peninsula and a boat trip to Skellig Michael – a rock formation that formerly was home to a

Our route

Our route

monastery and now is populated mostly by puffins and tourists. I may regret the decision not to go. It is a constant on this trip and others we have taken to decide what you can take time to see and what you have to pass up. I saw the Beara Peninsula yesterday and the Connemara Peninsula a few days ago. How many rustic peninsulas is the right number? Pat will come back tonight with photos of what I have missed, and I will add some to the next blog along with further misgivings.

After a week traveling, we are settled for a final week in the town of Kenmare, in Southwest Ireland just south of Killarney and very close to the Dingle, Kerry and Beara Peninsulas. Kenmare is a beautiful little town, and

A row of houses in Kenmare

A row of houses in Kenmare

we are ensconced in a very nice apartment. There are plenty of restaurants and pubs, a fair amount of local music, a 3,000-year-old stone circle (oldest and largest in Southwest Ireland they say,) and a couple of golf courses. I have been ready to settle down for a few days after a week of driving.

Anyone who has traveled around Ireland, or England for that matter, will talk about driving on the left (wrong) side of the road. I am including Pat’s article in the post about her own experiences. On main roads, it really is not

Celtic crosses in an ancient churchyard -- along our route.

Celtic crosses in an ancient churchyard — along our route.

all that difficult. Cars with automatic transmissions cost a good deal more to rent, so the stick shift on the left does add a degree of complexity. But the real test is on the smaller country roads which aren’t wide enough for two cars to pass comfortably. The rider on the passenger side is constantly cringing from what appears to be sudden death on her left, and I am sure that drivers of those wide tour buses are taught not to give up the center of the road or to make eye contact.

Here’s Pat’s version:

Since David chose to rename our travel blog “Travels with Patty,” I thought it appropriate to weigh in with “Traveling with David.” After all these years, we are pretty settled in how we make decisions; however, some red flags arise when we travel. I often would prefer to spend the day walking the countryside, taking a hike or sitting on the beach, where David likes to find the nearest museum, and pub to read the New York Times. In any case we work it out –see previous blog entry.

I do admit that David has had his patience tested on a few occasions. He has taken up the majority of the driving “on the wrong side of the road” after I made a failed attempt.

The story goes … I took my turn behind the wheel with David coaching me to move to the middle of the road and take the “roundabouts to the left (the damn roundabouts). I was clicking along pretty well when I saw the “traffic calming” signs coming in to the small village of Ballybofey. Not a place we were planning on spending any time. My goal — just get through town. Cars were parked along the side of the road leaving little room to travel well. I clipped the left side of the car on a curb and knew immediately that I and done damage. Sure enough as David looked he said, “you broke it”. I inspected–two flat tyres — sidewalls shattered. YIKES!! Not to worry, on the advice of friends, we purchased the maximum amount of insurance at the rental dealer. But when we called, they said that tires and widows were not covered. With a little luck, the people of Ballybofey were very helpful. A local insurance agent called a tow truck and a young man was on the scene in a few minutes. Since we were in northwest of Ireland where they speak some Gaelic, we couldn’t understand much of what he said, although he replaced the tyres and we were on our way in about 45 minutes — a couple hundred Euros poorer.  

Needless to say David is doing most of the driving now. So I guess “Traveling with David isn’t that bad after all.

Ok, we have been on a fair number of those little roads, as the great sights in

I walked across this bridge, and back.

I walked across this bridge, and back.

the west are not on the superhighways. The real trick – I think – is focus. Don’t look up; don’t relax; just pay attention. The destinations and stops along the way can justify the concentration. As you can see from the map here, we began in Dublin, did a loop through the North to Belfast and Derry, then headed south to Galway and now Kenmare.

This route took us along the Antrim Coast, past a famous rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede and the Giant’s Causeway. I am not nuts about heights but was bullied into going over the rope bridge. I considered ending it all right out there on the coast rather than have to walk back over the bridge.

From Galway we saw the Connemara Peninsula, which is truly beautiful but doesn’t get as much press as the others to the south, and then traveled past the Burren and stopped at another amazing physical rock formation, the Cliffs of Moher. (I say we went past the Burren because we happened to be traveling the same day as the “tour de Burren” bicycle race, and the police re-routed us around it rather than through it, so we didn’t see much other than more fields, sheep and farm equipment. Pat keeps saying, of sights that we pass up, “We will never come by here again.” Hopefully that isn’t true.

These must-see destinations are very efficiently operated by the Irish. You go into the car park, and often there is a guided tour. There is a shuttle bus at the Giants Causeway which you can take either or both

the cliffs of Moher rise 650 feet above the sea. What's that in metric?

the cliffs of Moher rise 650 feet above the sea. What’s that in metric?

directions. (We walked town and rode back up.) The Cliffs of Moher has a number of walking routes and trails.

And while it may sound cliché, the Irish are universally very friendly and helpful – much more so than other places we have been. I suppose this is partly due to the fact that they speak a form of English and that many of them are easy to understand., but I think there is more to it than just the ease of communication.

 

 

Patty in the Kenmare stone circle.

Patty in the Kenmare stone circle.

A view in the Beara peninsula.

A view in the Beara peninsula.

 

A view of the troubles in Belfast and Derry

We think of ourselves as relatively well-informed about world events, and we follow the news about Ireland as best we can

Unionist mural depicting William of Orange

Unionist mural depicting William of Orange

at home, but we were unaware of the extent of ill feelings and segregation that still exist between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

At the suggestion of the Rick Steves office – with whom we had a counseling session as part of the planning for this trip – we took a special taxi tour of the “troubled” areas in Belfast. Our taxi-driver-tour-guide, Al, was scrupulously even-handed; I still can’t tell you want side he is on. He was pretty down on both. We saw the murals in the Unionist area of Belfast, as well as the preparations for the July 16 bonfires. (This is a remembrance of how they warned the next village that the army was approaching in the 17th Century – by setting fires.) And we also toured the Catholic – or Republican — areas and “peace” wall. The wall is studded with good wishes but still can’t come down because of fear that battles would break out again between the residents on each side. It was a

Unionist mural

Unionist mural

surprise to Pat and me that there still would be neighborhoods that are so strictly segregated that no one from the other side would or could move in.

Of course there are areas of Belfast that are not segregated. And there is no open conflict. Politicians are working on various plans to bring the two sides together. But even as recently as last month, Catholic leader Gerry Adams was arrested and held for three days in connection with an inquiry into a murder 30 years ago.

At one point, Belfast was 80 percent Protestant; now it is about 50-50. According to Al, the Catholics believe demographics are on their side and that one day they will be able to vote to unite Ireland. The Protestants – or at least the most retrogressive of them – would like things to go back to the way they used to be.

Pallets readied for the bonfire. More will be added before it is done.

Pallets readied for the bonfire. More will be added before it is done.

A day later we were in Derry – of Londonderry if you are a Unionist – and learned that while they tell the story differently, the divisions continue.

The Bogside Catholic area is still very extensive, and there is a small enclave of Protestant housing that remains on the west side of the River Foyle. Most Protestants moved to the other side of the river, and that area is now quite open to residents from either faith. But in the Bogside, and in the few blocks of Unionist housing, it would not be safe in either area for one from the other side to move in – even if they wanted to. Note in the photos the orange and green paint on the curbstones where the Republicans live, and the red, white and blue paint for the Unionists.

 

Belfast peace wall

Belfast peace wall

The “peace wall” in Derry is much different. As you can see from the photograph, it is not a solid wall and there are no posters. Still, they are not ready to take the chance of taking it down – just in case it might be needed.

I do not mean to imply that most of the folks here believe this way, or even many of them. We have not been here long enough to gauge this well. And the various people we spoke to are living their lives, avoiding trouble and optimistic – but the troubles are a constant reminder and – as they say in the car’s rear view mirror – objects may be larger than they appear.

The Bogside neighborhood. The mural is of a schoolgirl killed by the British Army as part of the troubles.

The Bogside neighborhood. The mural is of a schoolgirl killed by the British Army as part of the troubles.

Unionist neighborhood in Derry. Note the colored curbstones.

Unionist neighborhood in Derry. Note the colored curbstones.

Derry's transparent peace wall.

Derry’s transparent peace wall.

 

Revisionist views on Irish music

We had been warned, before coming to Ireland, that the romantic notion of walking down to the local pub to listen to original Irish music was a thing of the past, that all the pubs had been turned into sports bars and that no one would be chatting with us.

The impromptu group at O'Donoghue's

The impromptu group at O’Donoghue’s

And since this week marked the beginning of the World Cup, I figured it was a reasonable

expectation. But I am pleased to say that, after two days in Ireland, we have not been disappointed.

We heard the first music being played when we walked past O’Donoghue’s Pub on Sunday afternoon. A group of musicians shows up every Sunday – apparently the places are interchangeable, and the barmaid said we could sing a song ourselves if we wanted to.

Next, as we walked toward St. Patrick’s Cathedral from St. Stephen’s Green, near our hotel, we found a men’s chorus, all in tuxedos, singing Aretha Franklin’s “I say a little prayer for you.” Finally, all in the same afternoon, we happened into St. Patrick’s for Evensong – so I can tell you first hand that music is doing OK despite the World Cup. Our tastes are flexible.

Our route

Our route

More flexible, perhaps, than that of the cab driver who took us home from the Cathedral. When we told him how we’d spent our day, he said he didn’t really like what he referred to as “diddle diddle music” – his term for Irish music. He said he remembered fondly the 1967 “summer of love” and that his preferences were the Mamas and the Papas and the Lovin’ Spoonful.

Dublin was the first stop on our trip to Ireland. We headed from there to Belfast, and then we will go to Derry, Galway and Kenmare. I am including a map of the route. More on Belfast is coming up

A wedding reception coquet match at the green in Trinity University, Dublin.

A wedding reception coquet match at the green in Trinity University, Dublin.

in the next post.

 

The famous hapenny bridge in Dublin, one of the oldest cast iron bridges in the world.

The famous hapenny bridge in Dublin, one of the oldest cast iron bridges in the world.

Some long-lost cousins, and the mother of Parliaments

We left London this morning to begin our trip to Ireland.

Daphne at lunch at the Brenner Jewish Day Center

Daphne at lunch at the Brenner Jewish Day Center

Our itinerary in London would not pass muster with any real tourist sites. I spent a lot of time here as a kid, and Pat has been here a couple of times, so we did not put on the normal forced march between museums and art galleries. My personal goal was to revisit some first cousins whom I had not seen in 20 or 30 years, and I have always enjoyed just hanging around in London.

However, just in the normal course of events, we did manage to walk past Buckingham Place, through Green Park and Kensington Gardens and along the Victoria Embankment. We saw a couple of plays and ate some of the indigenous English food: steak pie, fish and chips and Indian curry.

Pat has been watching the Selfridges television show on public television, so we went to see the store on Oxford Street, which led to a walk through Soho.

Amy Woolfson and Pat in the Houses of Parliament

Amy Woolfson and Pat in the Houses of Parliament

For me, the trip was more about seeking out some long-lost cousins – one I didn’t know I had lost.

My cousin Daphne introduced us to a second cousin, Amy Woolfson, who works for a member of Parliament and gave us a tour. We saw Andrew Lloyd-Webber sitting in the House of Lords. Although there is a lot more ecclesiastical architecture, the rules and byways remind me a lot of Congress – we got in trouble for taking a picture in the wrong place, for example.

And we saw cousin Madeline for lunch near her office in Mayfair.

In this post I am sending along some photos of some of my long-lost relatives, and some other phenomena of life in London. Watch this space for something about Ireland soon.

The Underground at rush hour. We won't make this mistake again.

The Underground at rush hour. We won’t make this mistake again.

A very nice pay toilet in South Kensington

A very nice pay toilet in South Kensington

A string quartet busking at the South Kensington underground.

A string quartet busking at the South Kensington underground.

Madeleine and me outside her offices in Mayfair.

Madeleine and me outside her offices in Mayfair.

Tea in the cafe at St. Martin's in the Fields, near Trafalgar Square.

Tea in the cafe at St. Martin’s in the Fields, near Trafalgar Square.

A trip home, but no hydrangea

For my parents, like so many others of their generation, World War II was the defining event. My father was relatively old, 28, when he enlisted after Pearl Harbor. He’d graduated from high school in 1933, at the worst part of the Depression, and had spent most of the 1930’s living with his mother and sisters and working as a day laborer on WPA projects and for the state highway department. After the war, he came back to Colfax, WA, and to the highway department, and spent the rest of his working life there.

My mother was living in Hackney, an industrial area of Northeast London, working during the war as a clerk/typist at the General Post Office.  It was a particularly

Sadie Schaefer

Sadie Schaefer

nervous time for Jews in England at the time. Many thought it was only a matter of time before England made a deal with Hitler and agreed to send its Jews to the camps as well, or as many people here and elsewhere thought, Nazi Germany would overrun England and remove all doubt for the Jews.

Because their home was in an area targeted during the Blitz, my mother and her sisters left their home at 18 King Edward Road, Hackney, and moved to Oxford for the duration of the war. She told stories about bomb shelters, about surviving the

The tenant at 18B King Edward Road

The tenant at 18B King Edward Road

various kinds of rationing. She said they had to scrounge a bottle of whisky for the butcher – the currency he preferred — when they needed to get liver for my cousin Daphne, who was anemic. I even remember being here as a 4-year-old in 1953 when rationing was finally ended as part of the celebration of crowning the new queen, Elizabeth.

My dad had been injured pretty badly by a mortar shell during the Normandy invasion, and, after a long stint in a military hospital, had been sent to an Army Air Force base outside Oxford and retrained as a P-38 mechanic. He and my mother met, according to the story, in the line to a movie theater in Oxford.

He endured the result of those wounds in the form of hypertension – shell shock at the time

– and lived with a chunk of German shrapnel in his back. It was a cause of his premature death. My mother endured 35 years in Colfax.

Among her wartime stories – a happier memory – was returning after the war to their home in Hackney and not only finding the house intact but also a big hydrangea blooming in the garden. She attributed its health to the cats who also survived the war. I don’t believe that’s scientifically sound, but she always loved hydrangeas.

The house and side garden

The house and side garden

And that, finally, brings me to the travel portion of the story.

When we put my mother’s remains in the Edmonds Cemetery earlier this year, Pat and I saved one baggie’s worth to bring with us to London. That hydrangea – if it is still there – is Ground Zero.

We found the house easily and while the neighborhood looks pretty good, the house doesn’t. It apparently has been split into a couple of apartments, and there is a lot of repair needed.  I was photographing the front of the house when one of the tenants came out. You can see his photo here, although I didn’t get his name. He said there was no hydrangea.

As you can see, the garden is walled off, and he said he didn’t have access to it. Our earlier thoughts about Pat climbing the wall were abandoned, and instead we chose a garden on the side of the house as the final resting place. At the suggestion of the unnamed tenant, we also walked over to Victoria Park, the big public part of Northeast London, where I had been taken many times as a kid. I had spent a number of summers here, and It was a nice trip back to a second home.