November 3, 2015
Today we embark on a trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos. It makes me superstitiously wary to accomplish two bucket list destinations in one year. It begs the needless question of "Does that mean I am nigh on to kicking aforesaid bucket?" I hope not.
Another important thing left unfinished for me and this blog is a quick emotion-packed assessment of my trip to Ireland this year from the vantage point of about six months later. It was truly one of the most telling trips I have ever had. Up there with living in France for a year. Beyond walking across California, much much much more important than spending six days in Panama racking up birds for my bird Life List.
When we left for Ireland I was resistant to the notion of liking the place. I had figured that there was too much Irish-loving going on and that it was probably more hype than reality. I certainly don't give a fig for fairies and wee folk and selkies and my love for its music had become a background noise like the whoosh and still of your blood pulsing in your ear while lying against a too hard pillow as my husband has practiced full immersion celtic mandolin playing twenty four seven in our house for the last ten years.
There was another reason to not anticipate liking Ireland —having come from an Irish-derived family. I love my family, always have, but I took a few lessons in its twisty parts as a child, many of them cultural, and I perceived that what ever situation my ancestors had had to flee to get to the United States had probably been bad. This bad stuff therefore had shaped the two generations of Americans that followed the escape from their parents and grandparents' country of origin.
Simply put I suspected that the darker, more depressive, arrogant, heavy-drinking and lying parts of my run of the mill family might have all derived from some untold story —our own Frank's Ashes— or even worse a hidden Beauty Queen of Leenane. I just did not want to get too optimistic that the place was charming. Why, if it were charming, would anyone therefore leave?
Well certainly I learned there were very good reasons to leave. Starvation, lack of opportunity, relentless oppression of culture and future by the English, and too many rocks. I came to be able to see my absolute luck of being alive. I and my parents and my siblings, and my grandparents came through a substantial human bottleneck to then prosper in the United States. My family's obsession with material goods and propriety (e.g. snobbishness) are the negative image of what had been witnessed by ancestors prior to their departure.
I am lucky to be alive.
In addition to this joy I also realized a few other things of import. I had often felt too talkative, too obsessed with the wording and rhythm of sentences, too excitable — my whole life. When I got to Ireland I immediately recognized amongst all encountered the same wish to engage, to joke around with strangers, to talk like a pool ball on a break, and that this was a shared life force. I am no longer weird and overly engaged. I am Irish.
Thirdly I saw the whole incredible evidence of generations of forebears going back tens of thousands of years, from portal tombs marking the dead, to ring forts a half a mile a way from those tombs where descendants then eked out an agrarian life with a semblance of security close on to the nineteenth century towns and ports that figured so large in the families that produced my American forebears. I saw continuity and luck. I saw no need any longer to feel that my immediate family's story, and thus of course my story, need be the focus of endless investigation and re-investigation. I was part of a push to continue, a push to be happy and healthy and live.
That's what I plan to do.
Monday, August 3, 2015
Day Thirty-two, July 4th
I am writing this blog entry on August 3rd, —a month later than its memories. It would be a terrible and yet an in-character failure on my part to not finish up this account of each day in Ireland by failing to write up the last day! Since we returned to the States we have tried to catch up with our real world of deadlines and meetings and we have also fit in another trip, this time to Colorado, for camping and hiking with Steve’s cousins. So if this last entry seems flat and devoid of life you are not imagining it. It is so far the stalest entry yet—my apologies for that. But this is also my triumph! At last I have set out on a 'daily' writing project AND completed it.
There is no way that one’s last day before returning home can be devoted to the place you are in rather than the place to which you are returning. Our last day was about packing and arranging for transit to the airport in time for an early flight. We needed a mindless and non-taxing event to top things off.
We started our first day in Ireland with a tour of Dublin Castle and its place in the entire history of Ireland and we end our trip with a tour as well. We took a low-profile tour boat along the River Liffey. Our guide was Canadian, not Irish, very funny, and genuinely pro-Irish in all the right places amongst his descriptions of buildings and events.
Low ceilings for low clearances
The boats are shaped like flattened cigars in order to fit under historic bridges at high tide. Nevertheless our boat would only be able to take us one way because today’s high tide was substantially high, so we had to walk back.
We passed the nineteenth century customs house that was built far downriver much to the annoyance of earlier merchants who had invested in the original quays further upstream. Our guide pointed out the world's largest can of Guinness passing the building on its way to now distant wharfs for shipment to America.
There was much evidence of new building from the Celtic Tiger financial heyday of the late 1990s. The Celtic Tiger period saw scads of foreign investment in Ireland, coupled with skyrocketing real estate values accompanying new building projects and subdivisions. It lasted about five years before the global bubble burst. The new Dublin conference center, called colloquially the 'Can in a Box' was impressive.
Nineteenth century facades are now outnumbered and overshadowed by glass and steel expressions of the latest architecture.
Dubliners are proud of their many bridges from the earliest to the most recent. We particularly liked the nicknames for the bridges which lack the dullness of commemorative tributes to important people. Our two favorites were the Harp Bridge (Samuel Beckett Bridge) and the Quiver in the River bridge thusly named for how much it shakes as you walk across it (The Sean O'Casey bridge, also named after a writer/playwright).
A replica "famine ship"called the Jeanie Johnston in front of the Harp Bridge. The ship holds a famine museum.
Happy crew on the Quiver in the River.
We were dropped right near a shopping mall, built in 1812 as a warehouse for imports, and now unrecognizably though functionally re-designed. It was called the chq Building—the name is intentionally and pretentiously lower-case. This vast indoor shopping and dining center was barely inhabited. We were visiting on a Saturday and I can only imagine that the five restaurants in this cavernous restoration-of-a-warehouse at least get business on workdays midweek. The Celtic tiger has crept away, and these developments are struggling.
see aitch kyou (photograph from the internet)
As we walked back we found ourselves amongst the famine sculptures that our tour guide had told us to look for. This evocative work of gaunt and distraught starving life-seekers face east towards the quays from which so many emigrants left for America, Australia and Canada. There is a more robust grouping of healthier and exultant statues in Toronto's Ireland Park in Canada by the Dublin sculptor Rowan Gillespie.
After we walked all the way back upriver to Temple Bar we had an early dinner at the Porterhouse Brew Pub. Here, —at last!— was a new stout—a draft stout—an actual craft-brew with a weird name, which we can't remember now. In Dublin all of your fantasies about Ireland can be realized.
Porterhouse walls of glass and glass bottles.
Penny whistle King Ray McCormac
Another great thing about this great bar was its regular house band performing here since 1996 as Sliotar. The band's penny whistle player Ray McCormac played an unearthly pure and speedy whistle, and when he was done he would belt out beautiful Irish ballads a cappella. He was amazing and his mates had to try to keep up.
We returned to our utilitarian modern apartment by way of the old medieval walls of the city. This would be all we would see of the nightlife this trip. Tomorrow we would lift off and return home.