Posted by: mdmusingsie | December 10, 2017

This Was Not My Mother’s Bingo

A friend of mine at work invited me to play bingo at one of the local bingo parlors.  I’ve played bingo plenty of times in the past, particularly in Las Vegas with my Mother as she enjoys the game.  However, when the games started, I realized I wasn’t in Kansas (or anywhere else in the US) anymore.

We arrived just as the early bird session was starting and were handed our paper booklets. In the bingo sessions I’ve played in the US, you normally get a sheet explaining which games had which pattern.  There was no such cheat sheet.  My friend had played in Scotland before so she wasn’t nearly as confused as I was when I looked at the sheets we were marking.

Firstly, there is no B-I-N-G-O across the top, and secondly the numbers go from 1 to 90.  This was a whole new ball-game. To add to the confusion, the numbers are called very quickly – much more quickly than I was used to. Throw in the different accent of the caller along with the funny names they had for some numbers, I was way out of my comfort zone.

Anything ending in a 0 is called a blind – e.g. 30 they call as 3-0, blind thirty.  Others included ‘half way’ for 45, ‘top of the shelf’ for 90, double N’s for 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77, 88 (11 was something to do with legs), and the one it took me a long time to interpret 9 – call the doctor.  I had to remember that to call emergency services in Ireland you dial 999 and not 911 like the US.

To win on this new form of bingo, all games start with one line, so you have to get all numbers on one line on any grouping on the page.  Once someone had one line we played for 2 lines on the same page, and then 3 lines or full house.

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It took me a number of games/pages to not only figure out that putting a slash through a number (we used plain markers instead of daubers) didn’t give enough visibility to the pattern, and also to recognize when I had a full line (or 2).

Just when I started getting the hang of it, we began playing some bonus pages and instead of going 1-line, 2-line, full house, they skipped the 2 line game. Of course they did this the one and only time I actually had the required patters – 2 lines.  So there I go, embarrassing myself in my first game of Euro (or at least UK and Ireland) bingo, by calling out when I had 2 lines but needed a full house.

Oh, and by the way – you don’t call BINGO! when you win – you shout “check”, which I’m assuming means check my numbers.  A few veterans would call “thank you” in appreciation of the win.

In this bingo you’re not allowed to savor your one- or two-line win because as soon as they verify your page they are calling numbers again until the page is complete.  It certainly cuts down on the chatter, as people, especially new players like me, have to concentrate on the rapid fire of numbers.

Neither my friend nor I won anything, but it certainly was entertaining and I’ll definitely give it a try again.  But this time I’ll be prepared for this new-fangled way of playing Bingo.

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Another, less radically modified game I came across was McDonald’s Monopoly (I don’t frequent there that often but sometimes it’s the only fast food restaurant around and they do have lovely strawberry lemonade).  The board, railroad, and colors are the same, but the name of the properties have been changed to Irish places – O’Connell Street, Henry Street, Talbot Street, and other well known places in Ireland.

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So as they say, when in Rome….

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Posted by: mdmusingsie | November 25, 2017

Colonial Williamsburg

The last in my Virginia 2017 series is for Colonial Williamsburg – a town that is part residence, part tourist attraction.   The shopkeepers, innkeepers, and guides are all dressed in period costume.   Some of the homes on the main street, and more on the side streets, are actually inhabited by “normal” people – people who aren’t participating in the 18th century experience.  As I listened to some fellow tourists questioning re-enactors in one of the shops, I found out that some of the workers have the opportunity to stay in the houses in the town.  Whilst it may be entertaining to take part in the colonial experience, I’m not sure I’d want thousands of strangers walking past my windows every day.  There are several hotels within walking distance if you would like to spend more than a day exploring the town and assorted events that happen each day.

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We began our exploration in the Governor’s Palace.   The entry hall has a myriad of weapons mounted artfully but no less menacingly from floor to ceiling.  As a Governor’s residence, it was grand for its time; a point when most of the common people lived in one or two room homes with bathrooms and kitchens in out-buildings.  In one of the rooms was a corner chair that also served as a chamberpot – giving a new meaning to potty-chair.

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A stroll from the mansion down the Palace Green took us to the main street, known as Duke of Gloucester Street. The street contains everything from a tin shop, blacksmith, post office, grocer, apothecary, and milliner, along with a handful of taverns. There was also a market square where open-air merchants plied their wares.

We took a ride in a horse drawn carriage and drew the long straw by getting to ride in the Governor’s carriage.  Despite the outer grandeur, it’s not the most comfortable ride, as shock-absorbers hadn’t been invented yet, but we did have a pleasant, brief tour of town.

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Governor’s Coach – available for hire for a jaunt around town – Colonial Williamsburg

At the far end of the street stood the impressive, four turreted Capitol building.  This is actually the third building on the site, the first two having burnt down.  This is where the two branches of government would draft their laws.  The upper floor was split into the House of Burgesses, or elected officials’ side, and the Governor’s Council side.  The elected officials met in a sparse room with plain tables and chairs or benches whilst the Governor’s council had fancy paneling, comfy chairs, and elegant desks.  Between the two chambers was a modest room where the two sides would meet to discuss their proposals.   On the ground floor was a courtroom where serious crimes were debated.  A narrow balcony, accessible from the stairway to the upper floor, was where law students would gather to watch the proceedings and learn the tricks of their trade.

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We also had a private (there was no one else around) tour of the Thomas Everard House which is catty-corner from the Governor’s mansion.  It’s one of the oldest surviving homes in Colonial Williamsburg.  The main bedroom is on the ground floor behind the sitting room. On the other side are the dining room and an office.  Upstairs are two bedrooms where the children and/or servants would have slept.  Behind the house is the original brick kitchen along with a smoke house.  This house contained another corner chair (this one wasn’t a potty chair) which I’ve come to admire for their architectural creativity.

Colonial Williamsburg is a very interesting place to visit and you can easily spend more than a day exploring all the houses and taking part in the activities.  You can fire a musket for a whopping, 2017 rate of $119 (it’s an hour long event) or take the less expensive aggression relief activity option of throwing an ax for $20 (20 minutes).  Maybe take part in some of the more modestly priced extras like a ghost tour, pub crawl, pig roast, or ox-wagon ride.  Even if you don’t partake of the extras there are plenty of places to explore and things to do with the basic entry fee.  A worthwhile place to visit and plenty of fun for adults and kids.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | November 7, 2017

Founding Fathers’ Foundations (Part 3 of 3)

The last estate we visited was James Madison’s Montpelier. George Washington also has estates in the Virginia, but I ran out of time and didn’t get to visit Mount Vernon – hopefully next time.

Montpelier was built by Madison’s father as the family home and was later enlarged by James and Dolley after their marriage. It is similar in size to main structure of Monticello

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James Madison was the 4th President of the US, the architect of the Constitution, and author of the Bill of Rights. His plan formed the three branches of government to provide checks and balances – the very same checks and balances that show signs of erosion in recent times.  Initially opposed to a bill of rights that might exclude important rights, Madison saw that the Constitution wouldn’t be ratified by the states without one.

Madison’s wife, Dolley worked behind the scenes both as hostess in the White House during Jefferson’s presidency (he was a widower at the time) as well as during her husband’s tenure as president.

In the cellars a new exhibit called The Mere Distinction of Colour depicts the life and time of slaves.  It includes accounts from descendants of slaves recounting events as told to them by those who lived and worked in the plantations.

James Madison didn’t quite make it to July 4th, passing away on June 28th, 1836.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | November 6, 2017

Founding Fathers’ Foundations (Part 2 of 3)

Next up and very close to Monroe’s Highland is Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.  A more striking residence, anyone familiar with US currency will recognize the building as it is depicted on the flip side of the nickel (5 cent) coin.  Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence and the 3rd President of the United States.

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Monticello

The dome we are so familiar with is actually not part of the original house.  After being inspired by European architecture, Jefferson remodeled Monticello to add the now famous feature.  Although the public rooms are well proportioned, Jefferson made spectacular use of space.  His own bed was in an alcove between his office and bedchamber. The guest room where James and Dolley Madison stayed when they visited had the bed inset into an alcove with cupboards above for storage.  Dolley Madison was said to not favor the room as cupboards above the bed made it claustrophobic.

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Monticello dumbwaiter

Jefferson was a keen observer of the weather and would have known about the sweltering summers and freezing winters in Virginia. Kitchens were seldom in the same building as the house in those days, due to the risk of fire. To avoid having to transport food and supplies to the house during inclement weather, there is a passageway that runs from one wing through the cellars of the house to the other wing.  In one of the cellars is a dumbwaiter so that wine or port could be sent to Jefferson in his study without the intrusion of servants.

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A firm believer in the power of education, Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819.  He made sure that he had a view of the campus from his home in Monticello.

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View of University of Virginia from Monticello

Something of a visionary, he employed the technology of his day including a polygraph.  Not the kind used to tell truth from fiction when a person is questioned, but a writing implement that has two pens such that moving one in the act of writing moves the other in the same manner to make an exact copy of any letter or document – an 18th century copy machine.  It’s because of his foresight we are able to have a deeper glimpse into the life and times of one of the most iconic men in US history.

Like the other estates, Monticello was a working plantation. The street adjacent to the house called Mulberry Row is where the slaves as well as free or indentured craftspeople lived and worked.

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Monticello slave quarters

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Monticello slave quarters

Jefferson struggled with slavery like many of his compatriots, but acknowledged they were necessary at that time in order to fund the ventures that led to the founding of the United States. He is known to have fathered six children with slave Sally Hemmings after his wife’s death.  Whether the relationship was more than slave and master is lost to history.

Thomas Jefferson died on July 4th, 1826 – wanting to make it once more to that revered date when he and his fellow founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence.  John Quincy Adams died the same day, just a few hours later. Coincidentally (or not), James Monroe also died on July 4th, but five years later in 1821.  These men felt passionately about the country they helped to establish.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | November 5, 2017

Founding Fathers’ Foundations (Part 1 of 3)

Virginia is a hotbed for US history buffs.  Most of the founding fathers had residences in the state and several, quite impressive ones survive today.

Our first stop was at the smallest of the three estates I visited – James Monroe’s (5th President) Highland (aka knows as Ash Lawn which is a name given by owners after Monroe).  The house that exists today is not Monroe’s original house which burned down not longer after he sold the property.  Initially it was thought the present house stood on the same foundations as the original home, but recent excavations have shown Monroe’s house was actually larger.  Stone marking in the garden show some of the original, extended foundations.

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Highland – Flat stones mark where the original foundations once were

The guest house is considered to be original and is attached to the main house.  As it may take a day or more to travel from places like Williamsburg or Jamestown to the plantations of James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, they all required quest quarters to house the travelers who would stay for upwards of a month at a time.

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Highland – Guest quarters

Viewable from the guest quarters are reconstructions of some of the slave housings along with the original smoke house. All of these estates were working plantations – that’s how these men made their living. There were no hefty salaries or lifelong pensions for our founding fathers. They even paid their own travel expenses which included visits to foreign countries.

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Highland – reconstructed slave quarters (L) and original smoke house (R)

Similar to the other two estates I visited, Monroe struggled with slavery – on one hand considering it evil and on the other hand fearing the consequences of immediate emancipation. He participated in a venture in Liberia to attempt to repatriate freed slaves.

Monroe may be best known for the Monroe Doctrine, essentially stating that any interference by foreign governments in the administration of the US could be considered a hostile act.  With recent questions regarding the electoral process, history has a way of coming full circle, though sometimes with different players.

In the garden is a life-sized statue of Monroe that was commissioned by Argentina in honor of the Monroe Doctrine, but subsequent unrest in the country meant the statue was never delivered.

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James Monroe

Lesser known about Monroe is that as a young lieutenant he crossed the Delaware during George Washington’s famous campaign. Additionally, he was the one to actually negotiate the Louisiana Purchase with France. Jefferson tends to get the credit for this endeavor because he was President at the time, but it was Monroe in France who did the actual negotiations.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | October 29, 2017

Jamestown Settlement

On my Virginia trip we visited the Jamestown Settlement which is actually a series of different stops.  Ours were to the Fort and the Glass blowing exhibition.  You can also see replica tall-ships, a revolutionary farm, and Powhatan Indian village.

The fort is situated right on the Atlantic coast and is the site of the first successful English settlement, founded in 1607.  It is a triangular shape and would have been enclosed by a timber palisade.

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There are two churches currently visible on the site; one dates from 1608 and is a simple, rectangular structure built of waddle and daub.  In 1614, it held a very important ceremony – the wedding of John Rolfe to Pocahontas, Chief of the Powhatan’s favorite daughter.  It also contains a number of burials of what were likely some of the more prominent members of the original settlement.

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1608 Church reconstruction

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Pocahontas

The second church has a tower dating back to the late 17th century, but the rest of the church is a more modern addition from 1907.

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Jamestown church tower (circa late 1600’s)

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Jamestown 1900’s Church attached to 17th Century tower

Archaeology is in full swing throughout the fort, including inside the brick church and farther afield.  There is a very nice museum on site showcasing much of the history of the area and some of the archaeological finds. Between the museum and the young archaeologist who had given a brief tour of the site, we discovered that it’s nearly a miracle this colony survived.  Of the 500 settlers, only 50 survived during the winter of 1609-1610. They had planned to trade with the Indians to provide food between ships from England, but the relationship with the Indians was frequently precarious.

The colony did survive after the third supply run from England arrived, spurred on by renewed interest in the new land after the publication of Captain John Smith’s book A True Relation and The Proceedings of the English Colony of Virginia.  Captain Smith had been arrested for mutiny on the original voyage over and was nearly hanged upon arrival until they learned he had been named as a member of the governing council of the new colony.  Such simple turns of events prove to sometimes have far reaching consequences and this turn certainly did for the settlement of Virginia and the eventual establishment of the United States.

A few miles from the fort is the glass blowing exhibition.  I’ve always been fond of glass blowing so we stopped to watch a female glass blower fashion a vase.  They had quite a variety of items for sale and I picked up a glass chamberstick as my souvenir for trip.

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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.

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Blue Ridge Mountains, VA

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Above the Dixie Theater, Staunton, VA

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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.

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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).

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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.

  1. http://kildare.ie/Heritage/historic-sites/maynooth-castle.asp
  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.

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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.

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Inverted V shows where old church used to attach

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Balrothery Church Tower

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Balrothery Church Tower

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…)

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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.

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Abandoned boat house – Balbriggan

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Abandoned boat houses

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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.

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Irish Sea from Balbriggan

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Balbriggan beach

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

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