Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Celtic cross at Glendalough

Neither James, Adric nor I had ever been to Ireland, so when we were invited by my brother-in-law Andy to come visit, we jumped at the opportunity. Andy is working for the American Embassy in Dublin and he offered to put us up and tour us around if we could get ourselves there. A flight from Birmingham to Dublin takes less than an hour and Ryanair, the cheap intra-Europe airline, makes the trip very economical.

We boarded the plane Friday evening and were in Dublin for dinner. Andy picked us up and took us to a fabulous pub on Stoneybatter Road in the heart of the city named L. Mulligan Grocers, where I ordered bangers and mash. We definitely felt like we'd landed in Ireland. The pub was warm, in all senses of the word, crowded and the food came out quickly, copiously and deliciously. Andy took us back to his very cool row house. Dublin structures are often neat red brick affairs, and Andy's place is no exception.

Ireland is a country that deserves a nice long visit. It's small enough that you can get anywhere within a four hour drive, but since there are so many places to get to, that adds up to many days of exploration. We only had the weekend, so our two days were spent traveling only a little west, south and north of Dublin. We didn't get to the wild and beautiful west coast, which calls for an entire week, probably better taken in summer.

Our first venture into the interior was over the Wicklow Mountains. The views as you travel up and down are of gently rolling grassland and peat bogs. The heather was wearing its fall rusty orange color. One can only imagine how eye-popping the view must be in summer when the heather is in bloom.

We came upon a charming wild white mountain goat chomping grass right at the side of the road.

Our first stop, nestled in a valley, was the Glendalough Abbey, about an hour southwest of Dublin. This beautiful spot was established in the 6th century by a hermit monk named Saint Cóemgen (known these days as St. Kevin).

We walked down a magical forested pathway to get to the ruined abbey. I loved the green trees against the red fallen leaves. Our forests here in France do not take on all this moss.

The abbey grounds are seen at a distance across a swiftly-flowing stream. The spot itself was where St. Kevin spent his time, making the ground sacred, but the buildings and abbey came later. The site was attached by the English in the 1300s, by which time it was an important abbey on the pilgrim route.

Passing over a charming old stone bridge we arrived at an atmospheric site of tumble down stone buildings and grave stones leaning this way and that.

The hills were covered in muted colors and the stone, as the trees, play host to lichen and other attractive fungi.

The chapel still stands, but the cathedral, once glorious, is now in ruins, providing interesting niches and angles and good photo ops.

The grave stones were from several centuries, all the way into the 20th. The feeling is marvelously Gothic.

Real estate here is dear. Set against misty mountains, this scramble of tomb stones seems a bit macabre.

On the one hand it seems a lovely final resting place, and on the other a bit crowded and perhaps uncomfortable! I guess no one is complaining.

Visiting this site was definitely like stepping into the past. One walks along gravel paths or weaves in and out through the stones feeling very much the intruder in a world long ago forgotten. Who are all these people who rest here? Their graves are untended, their stones left to pitch and lean as time has its way with them.  Meanwhile we snap our photos and can't even imagine who is buried here. The place is entirely remote.

We took a nice lunch at a tavern on the road out of town in Roundwood. The later afternoon was spent exploring Dublin.


Sunday morning dawned gloriously blue and clear. We jumped in Andy's car and headed north. Within a few minutes of leaving Dublin, we descended into one of the thickest fogs I've ever experienced! Very ethereal. We were on our way to the Boyne Valley, and one of the most amazing stone age sites in existence.

It was actually the perfect weather in which to visit the Newgrange barrow, as the mist added to the drama. Seen here in the fog, this mound of land is visible, on a clear day, for miles around. It is a neolithic burial site built 5000 years ago, 1000 years before Stonehenge and 500 years before the great pyramids of Giza.

On the winter solstice, just at dawn, the sun illuminates the inside corridor of the barrow. This is the photo on the front cover of their brochure. There is a lottery to be one of the very few people to observe this phenomena, as only a few people can fit into the tiny chamber. 30,000 people applied this year!

After our visit inside the tomb, which without electric lights is pitch black, we exited out onto a world were the fog was starting the lift and the emerald green landscape could be glimpsed all around.

After a picnic lunch, we headed for County Meath and the castle and city of Trim. I was amused to see a sign as we arrived in town stating that the city of Trim is competing for the Keep Ireland Tidy Award. Trim and tidy, I hope they win!

This castle (now a ruin) was the biggest one built when, in the 11th century, Henry II of England made Ireland the very first colony under British rule. Here was the beginning of the British Empire, which, in the end, was the largest the world has ever seen. Ireland in those days was an unruly place and Henry had his subject Hugh de Lacy help administer Ireland from here. The Pale was the portion of Ireland directly under British rule, to go beyond the Pale, into the hinterlands of Ireland, was to meet the Irish barbarians...as all good English assumed them to be.

We took a very entertaining tour of the ruined castle and arrived at the rooftop just as the sun was setting.

We were able to have a very nice view over the countryside and ruined abbey on one side, and the modern church and city on the other. Thus ended another lovely day in Ireland. I certainly hope to go back again for more.

The one thing about Ryanair, is that their flight schedules are not terribly easy. We were required to be at the airport at 5:30 Monday morning. Far and above the call of duty, Andy woke up in time to get us there. We arrived in Birmingham for breakfast and I then caught a train to London and from there the Eurostar to Paris. Three countries in one day.

Rick arrived in Paris Tuesday morning and we drove back to Maison Conti right away. November is often our month for a little adventure, since our clients are all back home by then. It's not the ideal vacation month, but we take what we can get. Luckily we live in a location which is always pleasant to come back to. I guess we sort of live a permanent holiday.

Winter sunrise at Maison Conti