Thursday, August 4, 2016

Peaceful Glendalough in County Wicklow, Ireland

St. Kevin's Church behind the trees
Up a bumpy road, in a bus with threatening clouds above, my group finally found Glendalough in County Wicklow. We had been told by our leader that this is a pleasant nature place, but I learned through some advance detective work that there are ruins from a medieval monastery and remnants from a defunct mining community. "Photo ops," I thought.

Some members of my group and the general public entering the monastery ruins through the double arch.
I walked around the ruins after checking out the 3D map display in the Visitors' Center. As with many old Irish ruins, the stone walls remained, but any trace of roofs is long gone. They were made of wood and probably straw thatch and didn't stand up to weather as the stones did. Luckily, by the time our group made it outside to the old monastery, the rain clouds had floated away to dump on some other part of Ireland, and we had some sun.

Sheep are everywhere in Ireland, including Glendalough.

Detail of the cathedral at Glendalough
One of the notable buildings from the monastery is the cathedral. This is the biggest building in the monastic cluster and dates from 900-1000 AD. The chancel and sacristy were added later, probably 1100-1200 AD. According to my Glendalough guidebook, the outside of the cathedral (and perhaps other buildings) was plastered over when it was new, and didn't have that rocky look.

Monks' graves were moved to the cathedral at some point
These ferns were popping out of a lot of the stone walls here.
The Round Tower is a prominent feature of this monastery, and our guide told us it is in the best shape of any such tower in Europe. Although the roof fell through in a nineteenth-century storm, it was rebuilt soon after from the same materials gathered from the floor of the tower.

The Round Tower is in better shape than some of the grave markers.
The tower was not used for defense, but as a bell tower. Valuables were also stashed here, hung in pouches from stones inside. A ladder was used to access the outside door, but since each interior level was shorter than this ladder, it could not be stowed inside. This is not the place to shelter-in-place if the monastery was under siege. The Round Tower dates from the early 1100s AD.



I wandered around the ruins shooting photos and reading the grave markers. Some of these markers were very old and unreadable, but many were quite recent, marking the last resting places of prominent Glendalough-area citizens.





St. Kevin is the monk who founded this monastery. I read that he started out as a cloistered monk, reading and worshiping in solitude, but he had so many visitors he decided he would serve God better if he became a more social animal and started this monastery.

St. Kevin's Church has a belfry and a roof.
Most of my group walked beyond the ruins and grave markers to visit either of two lakes, the smaller close one or the further large one. (The Miners' Village was too far to attempt during our visit. Lead, zinc, silver, and maybe iron were mined there.) I stayed behind to wander among the ruins. A big dark cloud moved over the sun creating an ominous atmosphere around the site. I doubled back and photographed the Cathedral, St. Kevin's Church, the Round Tower, and the grave markers in the contrasting light until I started to feel drops of rain. From the bus, I watched as my colleagues got drenched in yet another heavy Irish rain.

The clouds are rolling in.
The raindrops are falling with increasing frequency...time to head back to the bus!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Dublin: Living at Trinity College, Eating at Pubs, Exploring the Region

I'll meet you at the Campanile!
Dorm life. I thought I was done with that forever, But this summer's residency for Cedar Crest College's MFA Program in Creative Writing included a two-week stay in Trinity College's dorms. I dreaded it. We were told that we'd each have a single room but share the bathroom and common space with two other people. I'm too old for this.
Number 2: My Dorm
 It was fine. My suite-mates and I got along fine and hardly saw each other on our floor unless we wanted to. We were very busy with seminars, workshops, excursions, and eating. And, I got to know them better. Yeah, my room was small (and there was no TV) but really all I needed was a bed, a desk, and a place to keep my stuff. The window had drapes and shutters built-in to the inside wall to shut out the noise (mostly traffic and street music) of busy Dublin.
My room on the FOURTH floor (no elevator)
 Living on Trinity's campus was actually cool. There was a wall around us with limited open gates which didn't stop the tourists during the day, but at night if we went out to explore the town we had to remember which gate would be open so that we could get back to our dorms.

The Main Gate, from the outside
We got the hang of it within a few days. I took a walk around campus one morning before our seminar to see what the rest of campus looks like: grassy squares, lots of ivy, and both old and new buildings. The train is elevated over the other end of campus. And then there's the Book of Kells! That medieval manuscript is housed in the Old Library which also contains the Long Room, a centuries-old library reading room with an arched ceiling. The Old Library and the Book of Kells were my neighbors.
The Long Room in Trinity's Old Library
We ate dinner on our own eat evening, and got to explore the many pubs around Dublin: Merchant's Arch, O'Neill's, Porterhouse, and Brazen Head were some of our favorites. Most pubs were either adorned with flowers like O'Neill's and Brazen Head,

or painted in crazy bright colors.

Ya know what's big in Dublin? Hurling is big. This is a fast-paced game which seemed to my American friends to be four or five games played simultaneously. There's a small white ball that is batted around with a wooden stick which has something like a spoon at the end. The goals are a combination of soccer and football goalposts and there seems to be more than one way to score. We watched a game between Kilkenny and Galway at Croke Park, a rather nice stadium that our airport taxi driver was excited to tell us about. We never did figure out all of the details of the game, but it was fun to be there to watch the proceedings on the field and the jazzed-up fans wearing their favorite team's colors. We were told before the game that Kilkenny always wins, and although Galway seemed to be leading for some of the game, Kilkenny got the win.


Dublin is James Joyce's city. We were required to read part of Dubliners before our residency, but it's really Ulysses that the real Dubliners talk about. We visited the Joyce Tower as a group--this is now a museum dedicated to Joyce and focusing on Ulysses.
The Joyce Tower, now a museum

It's a Martello Tower, a kind of tower built as a defense against Napoleon who was rumored to be planning an attack on Dublin. We climbed the very narrow (narrower than the typical American lighthouse) spiral steps to the top to enjoy the spectacular view. 
From the top of the Joyce Tower--is that Howth over there?
Scenes from that epic novel are based on rooms in the tower.

Some scenes are set in Kennedy's pub and Sweny's Pharmacy, both near Trinity College. The protagonist Leopold Bloom bought lemon soap for his wife at Sweny's. (I bought some of that lemon soap for a friend at work who is a big fan. She loved it!) Sweny's is known as the "worst pharmacy in Dublin" mostly because it exists now to sell the lemon soap and used books, and to host readings of James Joyce literature in many languages.

Inside Sweny's Pharmacy
The Joyce Tower, in Sandycove, forms the southern border of Dublin Bay, and at the northern shore of the bay we found Howth, a suburb of Dublin. This delightful seaside city made me feel at home and gave my camera a workout. Check out these shots (it was hard to take a bad picture there!):

Howth Head

It was windy that day--that's not my hairdo.


Howth

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Connemara, Ireland: Generally Gorgeous Gaelic Gawkables


I still have a ways to go with my unpacking and laundry chores, but I have finished sorting out my photos from the three weeks I spent in Ireland. I couldn't wait to look at them on a bigger screen. I didn't know where to start my story--I'm overwhelmed--so I decided to plunge in to the middle, actually near the end of my journey, and show my dear readers the Connemara region of western Ireland. Kathy and I took a bus tour from Galway last Sunday and enjoyed the scenery as well as the narration by our driver, Martin.

Low clouds over the Maamturk Mountains
 Those Maamturk Mountains are made of quartz schist and granite, and rocks of those substances pop up all over the landscape. In order to make the land farmable, farmers have been digging them up for centuries and making dry stone walls with them. Apparently farmers do this in the U.S., too, but what do I know? Kathy says the fieldstone dry stone walls in Pennsylvania look different because the fieldstones are flatter. I thought it was interesting that the stones are just piled up without benefit of sand or concrete or grout. They've lasted for centuries like that.
The walls are used to mark property borders, field borders, to keep animals in, and to give animals shelter in bad weather.

Gawkable Connemara scenery

Speaking of fields, many of them are inhabited by Connemara Black-faced sheep. Sheep are a big part of the economy here, and I almost hate to tell you this, but these sheep are mainly used for meat and the wool of the survivors is not spun into sweater yarn. It is spun into yarn for carpets. Typically, farmers have anywhere between 100 and 500 sheep in their herds and they brand their own with big splotches of color on their backs. We saw red, blue, and orange.


Have you seen the John Wayne/Maureen O'Hara movie, The Quiet Man? It was filmed in this region of Ireland in 1951. There's a little bridge here that we saw from the bus. It is seen in the movie and now known as The Quiet Man Bridge by the locals. The movie in DVD form is available in gift shops all over, but I'm confident my friends at the TCM channel will show it soon. I'm going to make a guess that old-fashioned thatched-roof houses also make appearances in that film and in another, The Field (1989), starring Richard Harris. These houses still exist, but they are mostly used for tourist "holiday" houses now, and the roofs are no longer straw but reeds. (Underneath is a layer of metal to help prevent fires from spreading.) These and other houses are heated with turf taken out of bogs. The turf is dried and burnt as fuel. We saw from the bus where turf has been removed in a few places, and Martin the driver told us there are laws limiting how much turf can be taken out. It takes hundreds of years to form.

Actual thatched-roof house
We passed a fjord near the town of Leenane. A fjord is a finger of deep water forming an inlet surrounded by mountains. Glaciers were involved in their formation. Keep your eyes open for a play called "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" because its playright Martin McDermott was inspired by this location.

Fjord
This area of water is also called Kilary Harbor, and it was here that we saw a Fairy Tree!
Fairy Tree
The legend goes that if you leave something of value on the Fairy Tree and make a wish, fairies will make sure your wish comes true. It looked like most people left rags and socks and gloves, and we saw a child's rain boot also. (It probably had value to the child.) I didn't leave anything, but instead took a picture. By the way, that is a hawthorne tree. We saw many of them shaped like this from the Connemara wind.

Waterfalls are found all over Connemara, and our bus driver Martin knew we'd be interested in photographing them.

Small waterfall
Larger waterfalls
The highlight of this tour was Kylemore Abbey and its Victorian Walled Garden. This gargantuan gawkable home was built by a wealthy doctor for his lovely wife, Margaret in 1920. It then became a monastery for nuns who ran a boarding school there. The nuns eventually gave up the school and devoted their time to tourism. There's a small Gothic church nearby where Mitchell and Margaret Henry are buried. I'll be quiet now and share some shots of the property...

I look confused.






What ARE these?
More yellow