Posted by: mdmusingsie | May 29, 2020

Tidings and Trivia

It continues to be a strange world as countries go from shrinking into a bud to starting to bloom again and hoping the pollen doesn’t re-spread, forcing us back underground.

With travel limited to the local grocery store recently, only expanding to hardware stores and garden centres this week, there’s little to report on exploring the country.

But there’s always something to bring a bright spot to the day.  Recently, it was the appearance of two “Horton Hears a Who” flowers in my front yard (that weren’t there last year).  I know they have a scientific name, but not one that I seem to want to recall.  With no Bloom garden festival this year, this is as close as it getsFlower2_smFlower1_sm.

I didn’t try and talk to the residents of Whoville (I haven’t been in lockdown, starved for human company THAT long).  Besides, we need to save those hospital beds, even the ones in the psych ward, for Covid and other more serious illnesses.

Oddly enough, “Horton Hears a Who” was on TV in the last week (reminding me to create this post).

If you’re feeling shut in, bored, and listless, have a look around.  You’d be surprised at the interesting things you can find right outside your door that you hadn’t noticed before.

 

On the trivia side, which key do you think is used the most on the keyboard?  On my nearly new (only since working from home in mid-March) external keyboard that I’m using because the keyboard on my laptop does not have the “push” effect I rely on for accurate typing, I have worn off the sticker on the most used key.  Can you spot it?

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The I’s have it!  A few on its coattails are E, R, and T which I’ve worn off the keyboard in the office – at least it took me about 5 years to wear those off, not 10 weeks.  Since I’m a touch typer, I don’t need to see the letters, but when one of my co-workers was helping me solve a problem one time he complained about the missing letter markings as he visual-types.

So maybe that will help you on your next pub quiz when they ask for some of the most frequently used keys on the keyboard (results may vary by country/language).

Posted by: mdmusingsie | April 4, 2020

Hope Springs Eternal

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, ‘it is the best of times; it is the worst of times.’  It is certainly a time that most of us have never experienced before.

We are self-isolating, cocooning, hibernating, social distancing, quarantining and many other new and old terms for avoiding social interaction – in person anyway.

My mother mentioned the polio epidemic in the 1940’s in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when beaches and movie theatres were closed, children were not allowed on buses or in public parks or playgrounds, and school opening was delayed.  Not too dissimilar to what is happening today, but on a grander scale.

That epidemic came and went and this one will too.   It will become something you tell your children, grand-children, and even great grandchildren.

In this time in-between, when we might find ourselves caught up in the numbers and the walls begin to shrink around us, it’s important to ‘always look on the bright side of life’ (I can’t help but think of Monty Python – if you’re running out of current movies to watch, visit or re-visit some of the older ones).

It’s sometimes the small things that lift us up and brighten our days.  The other day I noticed my Christmas cactus was starting to sprout flowers (this was the end of March).  Now it’s in bloom.  It’s the time of year when many flora and fauna start to bloom, but I consider a cactus that is designed to bloom in winter and suddenly sprouts in March a blessing and a sign of hope.  There are more of them all around if you just take a moment to look.

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Maybe you haven’t yet noticed, but the air is cleaner around the world with fewer planes, trains and automobiles out and about.  Maybe, deep down, Mother Earth needed a break from us.

We will get through this if we all work together. Too many will die, which is tragic, but many more will live, survive, and thrive.

Keep your distance; it’s only for a while.  Stay in touch via electronic means – everything from the (now) old fashioned telephone to cell phones, Skype, Facetime, Zoom or other voice and video tools; email, social media, and even a hand written post card or letter.

Support local businesses that are open now and will re-open when they can.  Support your local artists, musicians, dancers, actors, sports teams – the big budget acts can already take care of themselves.

Thank the nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals putting their lives on the line each and every day as this event unfolds.

Thank the store clerks, truck drivers, growers, farmers, all those who are also risking their lives to make sure we have food on the table and enough toilet paper in the bathroom (and knock off the hoarding!).

If you plan on donating to charities make sure they are reputable.  Billions of dollars were raised for events like 9/11, most of which never made it to the victims.

Remember that a rainbow can’t happen without rain.

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Rainbow

Posted by: mdmusingsie | March 17, 2020

Historic Paddy’s Day

It’s a day for the wearin’ o’ the green, whether you have Irish heritage or only wish you did.  This day is normally celebrated with parades, rivers being dyed green, buildings having green lights shown upon them, and of course green beer.

This year, the pubs in Ireland are closed.  Yes, you heard that right – all the pubs are closed.  So are schools, universities, and day care centers – all by government decree. Restaurants are likely to follow soon (I wonder if that includes pizza deliveries?).

There will be no St. Patrick’s parades in Ireland, they’ve all been cancelled along with concerts, theatres (plays/musical), sporting events and any gatherings over 100 people indoors and over 500 outdoors, which includes church services.

This may all be happening in your town, city, state, or country.  The Coronavirus (Covid-19) has got the world by the short hairs.

People are panic buying (72 rolls of toilet paper, really?), enough pasta to last a few years (did you remember to buy the sauces to go with it?), and bucket loads of cleaning products (do you plan on squirting Lysol/Dettol/(insert your country’s favorite germ killing product here) on anyone/anything that comes near your door?

A co-worker told me he saw a woman purchase 5 boxes of garlic.  I believe this is a flu-like virus, not a vampire invasion.

I went to the pharmacy yesterday to pick up some allergy meds.  Now, I live in a relatively small town and this pharmacy is on the small side – maybe a dozen people could squish in on a good day (including staff), but only one person at a time was allowed in the shop – the rest of us queued outside, mostly standing the requested 1 metre (3ft) apart.

Are you contributing to the fear by stockpiling enough supplies to get you through an apocalypse?  Are you in a panic that you’ve either lost your job or may lose your job as more businesses close?  If that happens will you lose your house?  Can you productively work with the children home from school?

Maybe it’s time to take a step back.

Viruses and other diseases latch on to healthy cells and seek to destroy or weaken them.  Covid-19 has taken ordinary, healthy in body (and mostly in mind) people and turned them into fear mongering lunatics.  It seems hell bent on destroying large sections of the world economy.

Is the fear and panic feeding the virus and making it stronger?

Instead of projecting your fear out into the world, why not send out some love.  Send a message to the virus – call it prayer if that fits your spiritual modality.  Say, thank you, Covid-19 (no, I’ve not lost my marbles, please hear me out).  Thank you for pointing out the deficiencies in the assorted global health systems and health related supply chains.  Thank you for showing just how many people can productively work from home – particularly for employers who once frowned on the practice. Thank you for all the people who, instead of jumping on the fear bandwagon, have blossomed into their kindest selves – people who are delivering supplies to the elderly and infirm who either can’t get out or it’s too high risk to get out; the people who are checking on their neighbors and elderly relatives; the people who are helping travelers get home as they become stranded on cruise ships and in areas no longer served by airlines.  Thank you for showing us that many governments, banks, employers, landlords, and organizations are willing to do what they can to help people affected by the crisis, even if it puts them in debt.  Thank you for shining a light on the selflessness of health workers around the world who risk infection, because they were born to serve.

As you finish your intentions/prayers, send the virus healing, loving thoughts.  It has done its job of pointing out our weaknesses so we may begin to fix them.  It’s time for it to depart.

Events such as these bring out the worst in people but also the best in people.  Make sure it’s bringing out the best in you.  Don’t stop taking precautionary measures such as hand washing and keeping distances from potentially infected people, but don’t feed the fear monster, either.  We are most powerful when we work together and if we can get more people sending loving, healing thoughts to the virus and the world, the sooner it will depart.

Blessings to you and yours.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | February 9, 2020

Voting Day

Now that I’m an Irish Citizen, I have full voting rights and voted for the first time on Saturday February 8th, 2020.

Back in 2016 (the last big election) I wrote a post about the Irish voting system, which in regards to the election period is far superior to the American system (which is lengthening as time moves on to be close to the entire 4 year cycle), but the vote counting itself is far more complex.

I’ll bet many Americans would love to have only a 3 week campaign period with no attack ads.  There are televised debates and each party gets an approximately 5 minute “public service-type” announcement that’s follows the evening news (each party on a separate day).

Think of the billions of dollars that are saved every election. How many schools could that build in the US with the money from elections?  How many teachers hired?  How many police and fire fighters?  How many school lunches and homeless shelters?

There’s still plenty of party bickering over here – I don’t think there is a perfect system, but I’m grateful to have the opportunity to make an informed choice as to who I think could best lead the country.  I hope as the US election nears in November, that my friends, family, and fellow citizens (I’m still an American Citizen as the US doesn’t recognize dual citizenship) make their own informed choices (just the facts, Mam, please).

Posted by: mdmusingsie | January 26, 2020

A Wee Dram Before I Go

On my final tourist excursion before leaving France we visited Chartreuse Distillery (known as the Caves de la Chartreuse).  The beverage consists of a blend of 130 herbs from an archaic formula found in a manuscript that pre-dates 1605 when it was given to the Carthusian monks living in the Chartreuse Mountains in France.  The formula claimed to be the “elixir of life”.

It would be nearly 160 more years before the manuscript was fully decoded and the first batches were brewed.  For many of the earliest years the elixir was used for medicinal purposes.

The 130 herbs, plants, and botanicals that make up the liquor also give it the natural green colour; unlike other green beverages which are artificially coloured.  The distillery has a few of the ingredients on display which includes juniper berries, orange peel, ginko, and fennel.

The original medicinal variety (still available today) is 69% alcohol (138 proof).  When it became a beverage it was watered down to 55% alcohol (110 proof).  In the mid 1800’s they came up with a milder version (40% alcohol or 80 proof – same as your average bottle of Jameson) which is known as Yellow Chartreuse.

Based on my personal palette, I found the green variety to be smoother in taste and preferable to the yellow.  Either provides a very unique taste sensation (some would say it’s an acquired taste) from any other liquors I’ve tried before.

Although the recipe has changed hands a few times over the centuries, it is now back with the Chartreuse monks where only two monks at any one time know the formula.  The ingredients are assembled at the monastery and transported to the distillery to complete the process.

Unlike a lot of spirits like whiskey which has a specific aging process, Chartreuse is ready when the tasters determine it meets the standard.  There are four laypeople responsible for assisting with the tasting.  The liquid ferments in huge oak barrels, some of which are hundreds of years old, and several batches may be combined if the tasters determine one isn’t quite right.  Given the quality and strength of an herb may vary from one planting season to the next, based on soil conditions and weather patterns, combined with the sheer number of ingredients, it makes sense that some blending may be required to get that ‘just right’ taste.

The tour was in French, and fortunately my friend could provide much of the translations.  They do have specially arranged English tours during the late spring/summer months.  The standard tour is free (including samples of green and yellow Chartreuse), but there is a fancy English tour (pre-booking required) with a personalized tasting session, available for a price.

We were told that they have to move the distillery outside of town (it’s nearly in the centre at the moment) due to concerns over the flammability of such large quantities of alcohol.  For the same reason, we were required to turn our phones off, so, sorry, no photos.  If you’re interested there’s more information on their website (or give it a try at your local liquor store).

Posted by: mdmusingsie | January 19, 2020

Amazing Annecy

One thing that struck me on my first few days in France was how few people were out and about on the streets of the little towns we went through.  It was as if everyone had gone into hibernation for the winter.

That all changed when we went to Annecy. Even though we left Grenoble early in order to arrive in time to get good parking, there were plenty of people out and about on a Sunday morning in this picturesque town.

On the northern tip of Lake Annecy, not far from Geneva, Switzerland, the Savoire area has gone back and forth between Switzerland and France, finally merging permanently into France in 1860. Annecy is known as the ‘Venice of the Alps’ because of the three canals and the river Thiou running through the city centre.

It has a popular Sunday market where all types of artisans, growers, and food producers put up their stalls along the cobbled streets to sell their wares. The Bavarian-style Christmas market was still active as well, providing loads of shopping and culinary experiences and attracting large crowds of people.

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Between the Christmas Market and the local market, and smack-dab in the middle of the river stood Annecy prison also known as Palais de l’Île.  Built in the shape of a ship, the building began its life in the 12th century.  To our surprise, it was actually open.

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Palais de l’Île or Annecy Prison

It may have been a residence, at one point, or else it’s one of the nicest purpose-built prisons for that period in time as all the cells had windows.  One of the cells had a doorway with steps leading down to the river – likely for boat access.  It served as a prison as well as a courthouse, and from the mid to late 14th century, the facility was used to make coins, probably with prison labor.  Between 1905 and 1955 two rooms were designated to house the city’s homeless/drunkards for the night. Currently, in addition to historical information about the prison itself, it also houses a museum (in the posh (by medieval standards) upper rooms, complete with garderobe) depicting the industrial history of Annecy.

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The visit to the jail meant we couldn’t visit the Chateau until after the lunch hours.  So we wandered around the town a bit, checking out some of the shops as well as the Sunday market stalls, then picked a nice café where I had my first Tartiflette – a potato dish, traditionally made with Reblochon cheese, white wine, onions, and (bacon) lardons.  Potatoes and cheese – what’s not to love?

With still more time to kill, we wandered around the town a bit more, then found a pub to have some dessert.  Thinking to share a plate of dainty profiteroles, we were shocked when they brought out two giant profiteroles, surrounded by whipped cream.  Even the people sitting near us were surprised at the size.

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That fortified us for the hike up to the Chateau.  Similar to the Abbey, the Chateau was a mini walled city with buildings that were also part of the surrounding wall.  The Chateau has a Norman castle look with a series of attached square towers.  Unlike most Norman towers; however, the buildings were peppered with lots of small windows.

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The oldest part of the castle dates from about the 12th century with other parts being added into the 16th century.    The museum is located in one of the buildings adjacent to the tower structure and houses assorted exhibitions.  It also appears to be used for concerts, in what could be described as the Great Hall.

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One nice thing about these buildings was the circular stairways were actually quite wide, in comparison to the typical Norman tower or castle in Ireland or the UK.

No shortage of people were visiting this monument on a sunny Sunday.  The queue was longer when we were leaving than when we arrived.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | January 19, 2020

Saint Antoine L’Abbaye

On the other side of the mountains from Grenoble, back towards Lyon, atop a steep hill sits the Abbey of Saint Antoine (Anthony).  This was a hit and miss site when it came to openings.

The museum was closed, a few of the restaurants were open, most of the shops were closed or on lunch, but the church was open, so at least it wasn’t a complete ‘view from the outside’ as some of our other adventures had been.  We were caught out a bit by the French lunch hours and might have stayed longer if we had been able to get some simple fare like soup and bread at one of the restaurants, but they appeared to only be serving large dinner-style meals.  My friend said that simple soup or sandwich lunches, like you find all around Ireland, are quite rare in France.  They go for the big mid-day meal, which helps explain the lengthy lunch break.

It was a shame that more wasn’t open because there were a number of families with children visiting the site – probably looking for a way to keep the kids off their screens and from complaining about the inevitable boredom of school holidays.  A missed opportunity for the kids to learn a little history and maybe pick up a trinket or two in the shops.

The Abbey is a series of structures in a walled enclosure; some of the buildings exist as part of the wall, with the church at the far end overlooking the valley.

As we walked towards the entry gate it was apparent some type of restoration work was going on; however, it being a Saturday, none of the workers were about.  The dragon-scale-like multi-coloured roofs of the entry buildings were spectacular.  My camera, though, failed to pickup up the vibrant colours as well as I would have liked.

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Entry St. Antoine Abbey

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St. Antoine Abbey roof

The cathedral-sized church dominates the site, and that’s where we spent the majority of our time.  Reports vary, but construction began as early as the 11th century and continued into the 15th century.  It holds the relics of St. Anthony of Egypt, brought there in the 11th century, and are reported to have healing powers.  It started out as a Benedictine abbey and was transferred to the Antonines after they became a formal order in 1297.

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St. Antoine Abbey looking back towards entry

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St. Antoine Abbey church

Looking at the front of the church, I couldn’t help but wonder it something was missing at the top.  It looks abnormally square for a church, especially one with so obvious other Gothic influences.  It may have been modified at some point in the past – information in English is not always easy to find.

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St. Antoine Abbey Church

The Gothic exterior is quite impressive.  In the entry hall is a beautiful painted ceiling.  The lengthy nave is flanked on both sides by little chapels/shrines.  Some still bear signs of the original wall paintings, some house large religious paintings, and quite a few held statues in nooks and crannies overlooking the shrines.  It must have been quite impressive in its heyday.

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It’s a very interesting church with a lot of architecture and hidden gems around every corner.

A cast-iron cross stands outside the church entry near the wall that overlooks part of the town below.

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Cross outside St. Antoine Church

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View from St. Antoine church

Maybe it was winter; maybe they were under maintenance; but any which way, I wouldn’t have wanted to use the public toilets.  A little too much visibility for my genteel nature.

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St. Antoine Abbey public toilets

One of the houses between the Abbey and the car park had done a fine job making their courtyard festive for the holiday.

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Posted by: mdmusingsie | January 12, 2020

Dem bones, Dem bones

It was while I was looking for interesting thing to do in the Grenoble area that I came across the St. Laurent Archaeological Museum.

Not only did it look interesting but was one of a small number of museums in the area that offer guides in other languages than French.  My friend had never been there before, so it was a new adventure for her as well.

The museum is located at the bottom of the Bastille, in an old church (11th century) which was built on top of an older church (9th century) which was built on top of 4th century graves and a 6th century crypt.

If you have a fear of heights, or open grave sites, this probably isn’t the place for you.  The entrance to the museum is over a series of metal grates and glass flooring to expose the layers beneath.  Even many of the stair cases are comprised of metal grates to allow the maximum viewing of the site.

As you enter, you look across to the altar area and see the paintings on the walls and the stained glass. Just in front of and below the altar is a semi-circular room with a dome, which houses the 6th century crypt.

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St. Laurent Archaeology Museum

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St. Laurent Archaeology Museum

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St. Laurent Archaeology Museum – Crypt under altar

Stairs lead you down and around, and the audio-guide explains different aspects of the site, including the transition work of one church to another where walls and doors were added, changed, or bricked up.  See the decorated archway above the current doorway in the photo below.  You can also see changes in the wall construction in this area.

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Lower floor doorway

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Old doorway painted archway and building material changes

Over 1500 graves have been discovered under the church and the attached cloister.  The audio guide mentioned that at one point, around the time they built the wall around the town, many graves were moved from outside the wall into the church.  The fact that the monks purposely built their cloister on top of a burial ground is interesting in itself.  There was some not very friendly energy down in the tombs, so it’s not a place I would want to be parading around on a daily basis.

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St. Laurent Archaeology museum graves

Although the tombs have been explored and analyzed by the archaeologists, the bones of many of the occupants remain exposed for view.  As my friend mentioned, it would make a great Halloween venue!

The crypt itself was quite impressive, given that it was from the 6th century and most of the stone carvings on the pillars are still very much intact.  Well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

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Crypt at St. Laurent Archaeology Museum

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Carvings in crypt

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Carvings in 6th century crypt

 

Posted by: mdmusingsie | December 28, 2019

Beginning in Bernin

I’ve done so little traveling about Europe since moving to Ireland, when a friend invited me to France over the holidays, I jumped at the chance.

Unless you’re visiting family or doing something like skiing, traveling in the wintertime can limit the available sightseeing opportunities. In France you have to beware of the intermittent worker strikes as well.  Only the former affected my trip.  That and the French lunch hour(s) where many businesses and attractions are closed from around 12:00 (noon) until 2:00 pm for lunch.  Therefore, to visit more than one attraction in a day plan to be at one in the morning, take a very leisurely lunch, and go to the second in the afternoon.  The other thing to be aware of when traveling in France, is many attractions only have tours and/or exhibits in French.  My French is trés peau/pauvre, but I can read more than I can speak.

My ex-coworker/friend lives in a small village outside of Grenoble in southeastern France in a valley of the French Alps. One side of the mountains, bordering Switzerland, are tall peaks covered in snow. On the other side of the valley are smaller rock cliffs.

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Several of the roundabouts even had festive Christmas decorations, including this one on the outskirts of Bernin.

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Somewhat like Ireland, there are castles or châteaux everywhere. The main difference in France is that most of them are intact and inhabited, either by familes who allow you to take photos from outside the gates, hotels, or tourist attractions.

We checked our lists (and websites) twice as we headed for the first of the castle-hunting expeditions.

Chateau de Vizille is a gorgeous castle not far from Grenoble.  Well, the outside is gorgeous, anyway.  Despite our double checking, the facility, including the museum that depicts the start of the French revolution which began in the region, was closed.  We weren’t the only ones who expected it to be open, there were other people who had come to visit – even the postman hadn’t expected them to be closed.

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After a walk around the lovely park grounds, we spotted a very small sign by the entry – probably one-inch cut off a piece of standard paper where they had typed, in fine print, that they would be closed from December 22nd until January 1st.  C’est la vie, as the French say.

We stopped for another outside photo only chateau, but this time we knew they were closed.  Chateau Touvet is only open during the spring and summer. One side of the 13th century chateau was built on a cliff but it also has a moat (full of fish) surrounding the buildings. We could see snatches of the gardens, which are terraced and in a formal style. According to Wikipedia, the estate is still in the possession of descendents of the original owners, which is impressive.

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Posted by: mdmusingsie | November 2, 2019

Dunsink Observatory

Part two of my Culture Night outing was spent at Dunsink Observatory, which turned out to be relatively close to where I live.  Dunsink is the oldest purpose-built scientific research centre in Ireland and an extension of Trinity College Dublin, built in 1785.It’s now managed by the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

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Dunsink Observatory

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Dunsink moving ceiling

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Dunsink moving ceiling

Originally, the telescope was located in the room being used for lectures on Culture Night and the movable ceiling panels are still in place.

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Dunsink telescope

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Dunsink telescope

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Dunsink telescope

Back in the 1700 and 1800’s there wasn’t the light pollution that detracts from celestial observation, nor was Dublin quite as large; however, Ireland doesn’t exactly have the best climate for scanning the night skies, unless you want to observe a lot of clouds.  Undeterred, the observatory is a popular attraction for amateur astronomers and hopefully the next generation of astrophysicists and scientists. The annual event was chock full of visitors enjoying the lectures, checking out the displays, and chatting with fellow enthusiasts.

Historically, Dunsink was used not only for research and science, but it also kept the time, with relays throughout the day to O’Connell Street where ships could set their clocks by the time ball.

It was at Dunsink where they determined that Ireland was 25 minutes (and 7.4 seconds) off from Greenwich Mean Time.  This aligns with my suspicions about why events always start late in Ireland – they are operating on Dublin Mean Time.  In 1916, Ireland moved the clocks back 35 minutes and switched over to Greenwich Time.

Around the mid 1800’s the second dome shaped building was added along with a new telescope.  This is where the main telescope resides today.  I was able to peak through it before dusk, but once darkness fell the queue to view the heavens was so long I didn’t stick around.  They are open twice a month in the winter for open viewings, so perhaps another time.

A fun fact I learned on the night, which might help you on trivia night, it is take 500 seconds (8 min 20 sec) for light from the sun to reach the earth.

I’ve had a long fascination with astronomy and have visited several observatories around the world when I (remember to look for and) find them, including Dominion Observatory on Victoria Island, Canada; Griffith Observatory near Los Angeles; and now Dunsink.  Had my stars been in a slightly different alignment, I might have been an astrophysicist.  Maybe on the next turn of the wheel..

1 https://www.dunsink.dias.ie/history/

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