Posted by: mdmusingsie | October 8, 2017

William Shakespeare, meet Harry Potter

For a change of pace, the next few posts will be about exploring the state of Virginia in the USA where I spent 10 days visiting a friend and touring many interesting and historical sites.  The first stop and the most unusual was Staunton (pronounced without the ‘u’), Virginia.


Blue Ridge Mountains, VA


Above the Dixie Theater, Staunton, VA


Staunton, VA – I’m a sucker for a turret

When I was researching things to do in Virginia I came across the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton.  Being a life-long thespian, I thought this would make a perfect stop on our tour.  When I had trouble finding a hotel in the area I checked to see what else might be going on and discovered the town was having a Harry Potter festival that weekend (the festival is officially called Queen City Mischief and Magic).  They’ve already announced the dates for the 2018 festival, if you’re interested – make sure to book your hotel at least 2 months in advance.

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We only arrived on the final day of the festival but based on the program they had all kinds of events for adults (Wizardry Wine Tasting and Wizard Cabaret) as well as children (Quidditch games, Horcrux hunt, Potion making, etc.).  Butterbeer and chocolate frogs were only a sampling of the Potteresque treats available at local shops.

Most of the stores and restaurants along the main street in town participated in the festival.  Each participating venue had a collector’s card you could pick up.  There were 78 in all though I think I only have a little over a dozen.


Collector Cards from Queen City Mischief and Magic festival, Staunton, VA

It wasn’t just children dressed as characters from the books and movies; teens and even adults got into the act.  By mid-afternoon the streets were thronged with people.

To escape the late summer heat wave, we headed for a matinee at the American Shakespeare Center where they performed Much Ado About Nothing – thankfully, in period costume (I’m a traditionalist when it comes to Shakespeare – no modern dress!).  While staying true to the bard and the story, they did intersperse a few modern tunes into the play at strategic places, fitting the lyrics to the current action. It worked wonderfully well. The theatre is gorgeous wood, built in the style of the Globe in London (but no open roof).



Blackfriars Theater, Staunton, VA

Before the show part of the cast appear as minstrels in the gallery, belting out a few tunes to entertain the gathering audience.  They also sold beverages and snacks from a cart on stage both before the play and during the intermission.  If you really want and up-close, personal view of a play, there are a half-dozen stools on either side of the stage where you can sit and possibly even participate in the play.

What a wild, wacky, and wonderfully magical day in Staunton.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | September 17, 2017

Maynooth Castle

On a recent castle jaunt I stopped to snoop around Maynooth Castle (Maynooth or Mhagh Nuadhat or Nuadhad means the plain of Nuadhat who was the grandfather of Fionn MaCumhail1).

Replacing a once wooden structure, the current tower house was built around 1200 by the Fitzgeralds.  The complex became their seat and stronghold in County Kildare.  That would last until 1535 when Henry VIII and his army captured the castle.  A hundred years of turbulence saw the castle remodeled and re-inhabited.  In 1647 after another battle, the castle was seized by the Old Irish Catholics under Owen Roe O’Neill and dismantled2.  From there it drifted into ruin.  Once a sprawling complex, all that remains is an entry gate, Norman tower, and a few ruined walls.

According to the OPW brochure, the Maynooth Gate only allowed entry to the outer court and was greatly enhanced during the renovations in the 1600’s.

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To the right of the gate lie the ruins of a tower along with one of the inner walls.  There is a bricked up window on the side of the tower. The tower has what looks like a storage room but could be a function room as it has a glass ceiling.  Walking along the wall you see what looks like what might have been a window.  However, as seen from the other side, this was actually a doorway.  Where did all the dirt on the upper level come from?  There’s also a very tall entry out the back which is adjacent to that door that’s only an arch on the other side.

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A similar accumulation of earth is found in the cellar of the keep.  The cellar contains an exhibition of the life and times of the castle and its owners.  At first I thought there was a fireplace behind the exhibit boards, but I didn’t see a chimney or other type of flue.  On the opposite side you can see a series of these arches which separate the sections of the cellar.  It turns out that dirt has accumulated inside the cellar as well – to the tune of about 8 feet of it!  Just goes to show what a couple hundred years of dust accumulation looks like.  The well in the floor of the cellar appears to have suffered from this gathering of dirt, too, as it doesn’t appear as deep as it would have been and lacks sufficient water to be a proper well.

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Above the exhibition space is what used to be the great hall, now open to the elements.  Looking up you can see there was another floor or two.  There are niches in 3 of the 4 walls that are not connected. Maybe they were the equivalent of closets, or private areas for confidential conversations.

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In each of the 4 corners is an unusual arch which I couldn’t quite figure out what it would have represented – too blocked to be windows or doors.  Above them was another floor, likely with bedrooms or other private areas with more closet-like rooms between the walls.

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Although much of the complex has been destroyed, there are plenty of reminders of the grandeur it enjoyed during its heyday.

  2. OPW brochure
Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 18, 2017

Rainbow Day

Life has its ups and downs and sometimes the simplest thing can turn it from a down day to an up one.

After a stressful week at work, I left the office Friday evening, an hour later than normal, but as I approached my car I looked up to see a beautiful rainbow straddle the sky.


In just that moment, the stress and angst faded and a smile grew from its fallen counterpart.

I hope this rainbow brings a smile to your day.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 11, 2017

B and B (and a little bit of B)

On a mostly sunny bank holiday Monday, I headed out for another castle hunting adventure. During my search of nearby castles, I liked the look of Balrothery Castle with its attached round tower that is a staircase. What I didn’t realize until I arrived was that I had come that way before and barely noticed the place.  It’s right on the way to Ardgillan Castle.

Balrothery is a 15th century construct and was considered to the residential part of a larger church.  You can see from the photo below that the large inverted V on the side of the building is several feet higher than the current attached church.


Inverted V shows where old church used to attach


Balrothery Church Tower


Balrothery Church Tower


Tombstones from 1700’s

According to the little information I could find (the heritage centre was closed) Balrothery was considered to be the administrative centre of the Anglo Normans and was quite a hive of activity in its day.  It lies on one of the five ancient roads leading to the Hill of Tara.

So what is considered the castle is really a church tower and what I didn’t know until I arrived was that there was an actual castle/tower house, just a few feet from the church.  I believe it’s privately owned, which may explain the lack of information about the tower.  It is somewhat strange to see gunholes so close to the ground level, but they do flank the sides of a bricked up arched doorway.

I was able to capture the inside of one of the gunholes with my flash on and you can just about see a rounded doorway to the right.

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The place didn’t have any kind of negative energy associated with it that I could sense. It is a quiet place where you can hear the hum of the traffic from the nearby motorway but also the cooing of pigeons and other birds that are the current residents.

Outside the tower house stood a medieval knight carved into a tree trunk bearing the inscription 1343, Richard Constentyn, the Baron of Balrothery.  On the back was carved a shield. The carving was the creation of Richard Clarke and was commissioned by the Balrothery Community Association in 2016.


Between the church tower and the castle tower sat a small house with a For Sale sign.  Out of curiosity I checked the price when I got home.  If I can’t afford a sea view, maybe being 10 steps from a castle would suffice.  The two bedroom cottage was going for castle prices!  Even more than the average Dublin house; which is by no means cheap these days.  For a one pub, one Spar town, the housing prices require a knight’s ransom.

The last bemusing bit of Balrothery I found was a post (mail) box embedded in the wall surrounding the church; which appeared to still be in working order.


Post box in wall surrounding church yard – Balrothery

Leaving Balrothery I headed a little farther north to Balbriggan.  There is also a castle in Balbriggan, which is on a much grander scale, but also inaccessible.  However, Bremore Castle wasn’t just closed because it was a bank holiday, it is currently undergoing restoration.  The restoration has been going on for at least 15 years, based on my internet search, so I’m hoping they’ll finally get around to opening it to the public soon.  Here’s one or two tasters until I can get inside myself. Based on the photos in the links, I think it ready to be shown.


Bremore Castle – Balbriggan

A sign for An Trá led me down a narrow street and through a one-car-at-a-time archway that opened onto a park and beach.  To my immediate left was a Martello tower. Built in the 19th century as lookout and defensive structures for the military, they dot the British and Irish coastlines.  Some have actually been restored and turned into houses, but it takes a lot of guts and determination to take on the heritage boards.  Sometimes I think the governments would rather see these monuments fall to the ground, stone by stone, rather than let someone renovate them to a reasonably modern standard. (exiting soap box…)


Balbriggan Martello Tower

From atop the mound where the tower sat you could see the end of a building minus its roof.  As I gazed down, I thought, who would want to give up such a nice beach front existence?  However, coming around from the water side, it appeared to be a set of 2 abandoned boat houses.  While flood insurance may make the properties too expensive to live in, they still have some commercial value selling sweets and ice cream in the summer, or maybe a nice little café.


Abandoned boat house – Balbriggan


Abandoned boat houses


Proximity of boat houses to the sea

It was a beautiful day and the water was calm and tranquil so I just sat and gazed out at the water for a while.  To the right of the Martello tower is a nice, sandy beach where a number of people were enjoying the day – fewer than I would have expected for a nice bank holiday, but I wasn’t complaining as I enjoyed the quiet.  One person was paddling along on a surf board – there wasn’t a wave in sight to give him a ride.  As I glanced his way I saw the head of a seal disappear into the Irish Sea.  What a lovely spot.  I suspect I will be returning now and then to channel my inner Zen.


Irish Sea from Balbriggan



Balbriggan beach

So there we have it, Balrothery, Balbriggan, and a little bit of Bremore with hopefully more of the latter to come soon.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | July 23, 2017

Dunboyne Castle

All work and little play has made me a dull blogger of late.  However, with castle hunting being one of my favorite pastimes, when I was offered a free bed and breakfast room at Dunboyne Castle Hotel and Spa I was quick to take advantage.  My company was holding a charity event and had some extra rooms.

Not everything called a castle is really a castle, and in the case of Dunboyne, what’s left of the original castle is a small corner of the building with a door and Gothic window frame.  You might miss this little gem of the remains as it’s hidden in a copse off to the side in the centre green space.  I tuned my senses into the place and got the feeling that people who approached that doorway were nervous, so it was likely the place where servants, merchants, or people coming to ask something of the Lord or Lady of the castle would enter.


A former residence of the Dunboyne branch of the Butler family, the castle was a casualty of the Cromwellian invasion that decimated many a castle and church in Ireland.  The manor house that remains today was built in the 1700’s and although it serves primarily as meeting and function rooms today, it retains many of the architectural features of that era.

Curves are a prominent feature of the manor house, which has been carried into the adjoining hotel. Opposite the main entrance are two semi-circular doorways with grand curved doors.  The last place I saw curved doors was Rathfarnham castle – they are certainly not common and I suspect quite expensive to make.

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To the left are the library and drawing room and to the right is the main staircase leading up to a floor of function and meeting rooms.  The main staircase curves around and around.  You can see the plaster-work at the top from the bottom of the stairs.

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Many of the rooms, like the ceiling above the staircase, retain the intricate plaster-work by the Francini brothers.  You can get up close and personal with parts of it and see the 3-D nature at the top of the stairs near the Synolda or honeymoon Suite (my keycard didn’t open that door so you’ll have to check out their website for photos, but it includes a four poster bed).

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On the other side of the building, past the library and before you enter the lobby of the hotel is another staircase that is narrow and plain – likely where the servants were restricted.


Back (servants) staircase

The drive into the property is tree-lined with gas-style lamps.  I never did get the story around it, but there’s a statue of a reclining llama on the way in. There’s also a spot where a circular hedge encloses a ring of stones.  It was difficult to tell whether the stones had been there originally or were brought in, but again, my senses indicated the tall stone at the entrance was once surrounded by trees.

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The hotel itself is quite modern, with generous sized rooms.  Mine had a beautiful view of the green-space.  While not technically a night in a castle, it was an enjoyable experience and gave me something interesting to share with you.

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Posted by: mdmusingsie | June 23, 2017

Swan Watch 2017

Late April is always a good time to find a swan on her nest, and I wasn’t disappointed when I was in Galway for the Cuirt Literary Festival.  However, I must say I was dismayed to find the area around the nest full of rubbish and discarded plastic bottles.


It might be challenging to clean the area once the swan is on the nest as her mate may be very protective, but come on, people of Galway, have a bit more pride.  With the nest only a stone’s throw from the Cathedral, one would think people would have a little more respect.

Although I haven’t been back since to see how many cygnets she had, I hope it was a good crop and that they are healthy and swimming in cleaner waters.

I did, recently, go and visit the swans in Blanchardstown who had a large birthing this year – 5 cygnets!  They are cute and fluffy, though not quite as aggressive as their parents when it comes to scavenging for food.  The adult swans, along with the ducks, come flocking out of the water when humans come around.  They will walk right up to you and you had better have some bread (preferably brown as it’s healthier for them) and dish it out quickly or they will squawk!  And don’t get too close to those cygnets, either.  One hen strayed a little too far into the cygnet zone and the swan grabbed her with her beak and the hen had to flap her wings to get out of the grip.


Follow the leader


Aren’t we cute!


Veg, for a balanced diet


Family Portrait

Posted by: mdmusingsie | June 5, 2017

Riverfest, 2017

I had just been to the theatre to see the latest installment of Pirates of the Caribbean – Salazar’s Revenge (or Dead Men Tell No Tales depending on which side of the pond you’re on), it was only fitting that I visit some tall ships in person.  It just so happened that Riverfest was on this weekend in the Dublin Docks.

These majestic boats are a sight to behold.  Just as we continue to ponder how a metal tube can fly through the sky, it’s no less wondrous that such large wooden boats float so gracefully across the water.

The first ship I came upon was The Pelican built in 1948, originally as an Arctic trawler. It has been modernized since and can produce its own fresh water and has an on-board sewage treatment facility. Like most of the boats on display it’s now a training ship for would-be sailors.

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Next up was The Earl of Pembroke, also built in 1948.  It is a three mast ship, built to resemble Captain Cook’s HMS Endeavor. It has featured in such films as Alice in Wonderland, Alice through the Looking Glass, Cloud Atlas, and Treasure Island.  Getting below deck required a bit of climbing with nary a hand-rail to be found.

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Built as a replica of Peter the Great’s 1703 ‘man-of-war’, The Shtandart was the most impressive in design and decoration, reflecting the days of old.  However, it was only built in 1999 so it has as many modern conveniences as are plausible for a ship, and carried a pontoon-style motor boat for shore excursions.

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A busy year for shipbuilding, we return to 1948, where I met The Kaskelot built in Denmark as a trading ship, it now sports a traditional three mast Barque double topsail.  This ship has featured in a number of movies including Treasure Island, The Three Musketeers, David Copperfield, and Shackleton.

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I almost had to laugh when I saw the name of the next boat – Maybe.  Built in Amsterdam in 1929, the ship was taken to the Dutch town of Jut during the Second World War and hidden in the mud in a remote backwater.  It’s not only a training ship but a frequent participant in the Tall Ship races.



Of course the phrases that popped into my head as I thought about the name included: Maybe you can be a sailor, Maybe this really does float, Maybe you’ll make it back to port, Maybe you won’t drown, Maybe you won’t spend the journey heaving over the rail, I could go on forever.  I’m sure they hear it all the time.

Another smaller but no less impressive boat was The Phoenix, another Danish-built boat used first a Mission Schooner then as a cargo ship.  It also has been featured in a number of films and documentaries.


Ketch or two masted trading vessel, The Bessie Ellen rounded out the featured tall ships.  Built in 1904 in Devon, UK, it was primarily used for transporting clay, peat, and other cargo between the UK and Ireland.


Bessie Ellen

Getting below board is not an easy task – handrails appear optional.


To keep the kiddies occupied, there was also an array of carnival rides, plus a chance to practice rock climbing, and a zip-line.  Street performers included a pirate on stilts as well as a tight rope walker.  Plenty of food and drink options rounded off the festival.  There was certainly something for everyone and a perfect day out.

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My only regret is not seeing the ships in their full glory with the sails down, catching the breeze as they sail the seven seas in search of adventure.


Everyone wanted to be a pirate today


One of Captain Jack’s mates is missing his/her hat – check the Luas station

Posted by: mdmusingsie | May 7, 2017

Athlone Castle

On my way to Galway recently I stopped to visit Athlone Castle.  I had visited this castle once before, however; only the stone outer structures were available for viewing. Since then I had heard that renovations had taken place and was looking forward to see what had been done.

Unfortunately, my expectations far exceeded the results.  Instead of a restoration of a medieval castle, there’s a modern glass and steel extension tacked onto the monolithic structure that serves as the launching point for a 21st century museum experience.



Museum building pre-extension

The exhibit starts with the history of the settlement of Athlone and moves along chronologically with the primary focus of the museum being the Siege of Athlone in 1691 where the Jacobites (James VII followers) fought with the Williamites (William of Orange’s army).  While the Jacobites held for quite some time, eventually they were beaten opening up everything west of the Shannon River to conquest.

As a museum it has interesting information with a large emphasis on interactive exhibits which are perfect for children.  However, I found many of the wall plaques difficult to read as the type-face was so small.  You had to be so close to the plaque to read it that had there been a group of people trying to read the same information, there would be a queue.  A proper information plaque should be readable from several people back.

The upper level of the round tour in the center of the courtyard is used as a 360-degree theatre to show a short movie about the Siege of Athlone.  The lower level hold a series of glass cases with artifacts; however, the lighting was poor and cast glare on the glass making photos difficult to take.


As mentioned, the museum must have been designed primarily to appeal to children with the number of interactive plaques, push buttons, as well as period-type clothing for dress-up.  Outside there were more games and photo boards (where you stick your head out to have your photo taken with a body of a knight or such), as well as a giant chess set.

What I found most lacking was any reconstruction that showed what a typical castle room would have looked like – not a single one was on view.  Everything was so clinical and modern that, for me, it clashed with the massive stone structures that make up the fortress.

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I admit to being a hopeless romantic when it comes to castles – it wasn’t all damsels in long flowing gowns and pointy hats waiting around for a knight in shining armour to rescue them.  It was a time of no plumbing, infrequent bathing, no refrigeration and very little means of food preservation, which makes camping look like a five-star holiday.  However, I like my fantasy and when I visit a castle, I consider it my opportunity to step into that fantasy for a little while.  My visit to Athlone Castle left me wanting, in that regard.

The other thing that really struck me about the glass and steel extension to the museum was the fact that if any person were to purchase a castle ruin or other listed building (one that has been designated of having historical significance) in Ireland, you are required to restore it to within an inch of its original look and construction – employing specialist masons at extreme costs.  Yet the local government can tack on a modern extension to a castle without a second thought. Perhaps it’s that dichotomy that left me feeling let down by the so-called reconstruction.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | April 15, 2017

Eggstravaganza 2017

It’s time for the annual eggstravaganza.  After last year I wasn’t sure I would find anything new and exciting enough but it appears the chocolatiers aren’t resting on their laurels.

My first new find was from Lindt.  Most of you will be familiar with the dark, milk, and white chocolate bunnies.  This year there’s a hazelnut version.  Looking forward to tucking in to that one!


The next surprise was a large truffle egg with a shiny copper coating (edible, of course), courtesy of Tesco.


Before you start jumping up and down at the thought of a truffle egg that large, it’s still primarily hollow; however inside the chocolate shell is a layer of soft truffle.  I did sample this little gem, having cracked it open to show the inside, and it is yummy!  The only drawback was the copper coating comes off easily on your hands and needs to be washed off.


Truffle egg interior


The pièce de résistance for 2017 is what I call the Conehead egg, brought to you by Marks and Spencer.  They call it a teardrop, but it reminded me of the Coneheads movie from the early 1990’s.  It came with an assortment of filled truffles.


Conehead Egg


Conehead egg with mini truffles at the bottom

I hope you enjoyed this year’s installment of eggstravaganza.  Have a blessed Easter.


(Note:  I receive no sponsorship for these products – just wanted you to know where I bought them in case you want to run to the store for any after Easter bargains.)

Posted by: mdmusingsie | April 10, 2017

The Wonders of Spring

The days are getting longer and the trees and flowers are awakening from their slumber.  Unlike some of us who may not be at our shiny best when we wake up, nature shouts her joy at the return of the sun by sprouting seas of daffodils to remind us of the absent sun.  Trees are full of white and pink blossoms.  All this color and beauty can’t but bring a smile to your face.

A number of roundabouts near where I live are completely full of daffodil blossoms.  Even the grass median strips this year are a magical combination of daffodils and tulips as far as the eye can see.


The bunny rabbits are out in the corporate park near Xerox and PayPal.


Bunnies in the corporate park

Even the dandelions seem cheerful as they bring color to the land.  They may be a nemesis in the garden but actually have a number of healing properties.


Go out and enjoy the lengthening sun, thank the crocus, daffodils, tulips and trees for their magnificent colors and the delight they bring.

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