Posted by: mdmusingsie | December 31, 2018

Raise a Glass

Time seems to slip away with increasing speed.  Maybe that’s because I’m getting on in years.

Many of the posts this year were back dated and spread weeks or more after their occurrence as I struggled to find the time to download and edit the photos as well as write the posts.

One of the stops my September group and I made was to Tullamore Dew Distillery.  One of the gals was a big fan of this particular Uisce Beatha.

We were given a tour which told the story of the whiskey and the grains involved in its making.  Like most distillery tours, it also included a tasting segment.  I find the ones with the greatest age, and price, are the smoothest.

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The photo below shows the aging of the whiskey.  The dark shaded area at the top shows how much evaporates or is sacrificed as the “angel’s share” as the spirit matures.

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Tullamore Dew – each year the angels share increases

So raise a drop of your favorite beverage, whether it be a coffee, soft drink, beer, wine, spirit , or humble water, as we bid 2018 a fond farewell.

 

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Posted by: mdmusingsie | October 21, 2018

Inis Oirr – Revisited

My second set of visitors and I also took the boat ride to Inis Oirr; however, due to the weather (mid September), the Cliffs of Moher part of the cruise had to be cancelled.  On the way to the island it was a bit choppy and more than once we hit a wave and received a salty splash.  By the time we reached the island the sun had come out and helped us to dry in short order.

Instead of the horse and cart ride, we opted for the tractor.  Unfortunately, our ride had to be cut short as the driver had a wedding to attend in Galway and needed to catch the little 6-seater plane that flies to and from the island.

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Inis Oirr

While waiting to return on the ferry, we happened to catch the Ferrier in a visit to tend to the horses.

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Ferrier visiting Inis Oirr

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Ferrier visiting Inis Oirr

Fortunately, the return boat trip was much smoother and we arrived back on the mainland with nary a drop of sea water.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | October 7, 2018

Trim Castle

I hadn’t visited Trim castle in years, more like decades.  I have a vague recollection of stopping there on one of my early bus tours of Ireland.  As it’s only about a 30 minute drive from where I’m living, it was the perfect place to head off to on a what-do-we-do-today trip.

What remains of Trim castle, it’s curtain wall and structures are impressive enough.  It must have been quite imposing in its prime, between the late 13th century and early 15th century.  Hugh de Lacy and his descendants were the, if not architects, then at least financiers of this complex.

The curtain wall contains a number of building remains – nearly a city in themselves.

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The earliest fortification, dating around 1173 or so, was burned to the ground rather than be surrendered to the King of Connacht.  A few years later the stone keep began to take shape, complete with a moat and drawbridge.   Following that the curtain wall and associated defensive structures attached to it were constructed, negating the need for the moat.  Over the next number of decades, several extensions were added to the main keep, along with a separate great hall.

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One would think that with walls so thick these dwellings would have been warm, but from what assorted guides have said over the years, they were cold, drafty places.  Of course, during some of the earliest construction, there were no windows – just hides and curtains attempting to keep out the draft.

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A number of castles I visited had separate great halls, which were added later, during less troubled times.

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Trim Castle – Great Hall and Solar

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Trim Castle – Great Hall

Trim Castle was used to film parts of the movie Braveheart.  A photo album, available from the ticket office, can be perused to see the modification that were made (and subsequently removed) from the buildings to make them look more authentic and habitable.

Outside the castle is a lovely park to stroll through which includes the remains of the 13th century St., Mary’s Abbey.

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St. Mary’s Abbey – Trim

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St. Mary’s Abbey – Trim

Posted by: mdmusingsie | September 23, 2018

Clonmacnoise

Sometimes when people come to visit from abroad I take them to some of my favorite places, which are also popular tourist spots.  Other times people have their own wish list which includes places I haven’t visited before.  Clonmacnoise is one of those I had heard of but never visited.

Some of the more ancient, sacred sites are not an exit off the motorway.  They may have a sign on the motorway telling you which exit to take, but from there it can be an easy jaunt down a reasonable road, or, as in the case of Clonmacnoise, practically over the river and through the woods.  We exited said motorway, went down a national highway to rural routes, crept along 1+ lane roads in an assortment of conditions, through small towns and villages and finally found our destination.

Clonmacnoise is an ecclesiastical site founded around 548 by St. Ciarán.  Although it is a bit of a trek by modern road, it is situated along the ancient primary east-west land route as well a stone’s throw from the river Shannon.  We saw boats coming and going from a pier a short distance away, so if you don’t fancy the winding, narrow roads, take a boat from Athlone.

The earliest buildings would have been built of timber and only an archaeological dig can locate any remaining post holes.  The stone structures that remain date from the 10th century onwards, and include the main cathedral.  In addition to the cathedral there are a number of other temples or smaller churches, and two round towers.

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What Clonmacnoise is most famous for, at least in modern times, are the high crosses.  To prevent further damage from weather, the three largest and most decorative are housed in the museum.  Replicas have been placed in the original location around the grounds of the site.   There’s an abundance of grave sites and intricately carved grave markers.

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What I find most impressive about these buildings, grave markers, and high crosses is the detailed carving and shaping of stone.  There were no machines banging out these designs, it was people with mallets and chisels working for months and possibly years to create these impressive monuments.

I can’t help but wonder, when looking at the round towers and the cupola/dovecot, whether the monks were having a bit of a laugh with the shapes.

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Clonmacnoise – round tower 1

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Clonmacnoise – round tower 2

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Clonmacnoise – cupola

We were lucky to get some nice sun breaks so we could explore the grounds at leisure as there are plenty of artifacts to explore in the area.

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Clonmacnoise – interesting hole

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Clonmacnoise – butterflies at play

Posted by: mdmusingsie | September 1, 2018

Queens (or at least Princesses) for a Day

I can’t believe I forgot the pièce de résistance.  We spent the night in a fabulous castle in Tralee!  Ballyseede Castle is located just outside of the town of Tralee in County Kerry.  This is what a proper castle stay should be – all the ambiance of a castle with the right amount of mod-cons (i.e. a proper bathroom and not a garderobe) and no royalty-only prices.

The outside is a fabulous 16th century structure and they have kept the inside tastefully decorated; reminiscent of bygone eras.  This is in contrast to some castle hotels where the castle look and feel, disappear as soon as you cross the threshold.

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We each had our own room and they ranged from the single (double bed, shower only), to the standard (I thought it well above standard), and the deluxe (four poster bed).  While maybe not quite fit for a queen, the standard room that I had certainly appealed to my princess tastes.  The room was good sized with views over the garden.  They actually had top sheets on the bed (a real rarity in Ireland) and face cloths in the bathroom (another near rarity).   We were on the 2nd floor (3rd floor if you’re from the US), and although there isn’t an elevator, the staff will happily schlep your bag up the stairs (and back down again).

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Between floors there’s a nice sitting area to have a chat and a view over the gardens.  It also has two lounge areas – one with free tea and biscuits.  There is a formal dining room that doubles as the breakfast room, as well as a small pub that serves food.

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Most castles probably have ghosts, whether the staff admit to it or not.  Ballyseede is said to have several, however, you best chance to glimpse one is on March 24th when Hilda, the last of the Blennerhssett family who once owned the castle, appears in the Crosby Room.  We didn’t see any ghosts, but we were there in July.

Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 12, 2018

Waterford Reborn

Our last adventure was a tour of the Waterford Crystal Factory.  We had hoped to stop at least one other place, but the recalcitrant GPS kept ignoring the motorways. (One interesting anecdote to the GPS challenge was that often when I brought up a route on Google maps on my phone it had me going back roads, but when my friend Googled the same destination on her US phone it had her on the main roads.  This confirmed my suspicion that because I had an Irish cell phone, Google Maps thought I should be familiar with every little back lane across the entire country.  A word to Google – you know what they say about ass-umptions.)

I had visited the Waterford Crystal factory on one or two bus tours back in the 1990’s – what I call the real Waterford Crystal – all made in Ireland.  In 2009, the factory I knew closed.  Today’s visitor’s center and factory is at a new location, closer to the location of the original glass works.

Most of the pieces us common folk would buy are made in places live Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Germany.  The Irish Waterford factory primarily produces high profile pieces such as sporting trophies, specialty pieces, and the triangular crystals for the New Year’s Eve ball that drops in Times Square.

The tour is quite interesting, though smaller than I remember.  Some pieces are blown into wooden molds that have been designed for the occasion.  At least three of every commissioned piece is made – almost like an heir and a couple of spares.  All three travel at least part way through the process, though if the first or second are considered perfect enough the remaining are left in their unfinished states.

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Waterford Molds for certain trophies or commissioned pieces

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Waterford glass blower

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Waterford glass blower

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Waterford Crystal

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Waterford Crystal Nutcracker

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Waterford Crystal 9-11 commemoration piece

I have great admiration, in particular, for the glass cutters who work in the tourist part of the factory.  It can’t be easy doing your job, concentrating on getting the lines cut in the right place at the right thickness on the piece while hundreds of tourists wander past, chatting and snapping photos.

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Is glass cutting by artisans a dying art?  They had two machines that were programmed to cut a glass pattern onto a piece.  From what the tour guide said, the machines hadn’t quite perfected the cutting process, but I suspect it won’t be long before yet another craft goes the way of automation – stamped out like cookie cutters.  At least I can say I remember when…

Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 11, 2018

A Jaunt Around Muckross

After driving past the jaunty-car car-park for several days, we had planned to go for a ride before we left Kerry.  A damp morning had us wondering if we’d have to forgo this adventure.  When we drove by, however, we noticed that the carriages had snap-on plastic “windows” – the ride was on!

We had a lovely driver who took us meandering through Killarney National Park, pointing out many of the native as well as imported species of plants and trees.  He also had quite an extensive knowledge of the history of the area.

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Jaunty Car – Muckross

Our ride took us all the way to Muckross House and back.  Because it was drizzling on the way out, we postponed our exploration of Muckross Abbey for the return journey and were rewarded with dry weather.

Although the 15th century abbey is a ruin, quite a bit of it is still intact.  I particularly liked the courtyard with the gorgeous yew tree growing in the centre.

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Muckross Abbey

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Muckross Abbey

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Muckross Abbey

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Muckross Abbey – Yew tree in courtyard

I’m glad we went on this ride; it’s a relaxing way to spend a few hours enjoying lovely scenery.

 

Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 5, 2018

Damp in Dingle

The drought was bound to ease at some point, and it started while we were taking a tour around the Dingle peninsula (this was back in mid-July, I’m a little behind in my posts). Unfortunately, we didn’t book early enough to get a small bus tour that takes you to places the larger buses can’t maneuver, but we were treated to some beautiful scenery.

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Our first stop was Inch beach.  Definitely a surfers’ haven as they had surfboard rentals set up along the beach.  Plenty of cars driving on the beach as well.  That can be risky business.  The bus driver said there’s a farmer that will come and pull you out with his tractor if you get stuck – for somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-50 Euro!

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Inch Beach, Kerry

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Inch Beach, Kerry

Along the drive we came across a number of bee-hive huts or clochán as they’re known in Irish.  They’re dry stone structures, similar to the dry stone walls you see all around Ireland.  Many associate them with monks and monasteries, but no one is entirely sure what or how they were used.  Were they mini-homes (they look more like solitary confinement), storage places, animal shelters, or all of the above.

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Bee-hive hut – Dingle, Co Kerry

Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 5, 2018

L Roads to Lovely Loch Lein

Heading south, we wound our way down to Killarney in County Kerry.

Now, I’m not saying that modern GPS navigation is a bad thing, but we had some interesting experiences with the navigations systems after leaving Galway.  First, my Garmin hadn’t a clue about the new M18 motorway, even though I had applied updates less than a month earlier.  When I say new motorway, I’m not talking about it being finished merely a month or less ago – it’s over a year old; and longer if you count the building of it.

For a good 20-30 minutes, the Garmin screen looked as if my car was plowing through fields as it actually sped down the motorway.  Eventually it caught up and placed a road under my graphically-depicted wheels.

As we headed further south, so did the ability of GPS to get us to our destinations in something other than a white-knuckled, round-about manner.  I had switched navigation systems at this point, hoping Google Maps was more up to date.  However, for some reason, Google Maps seems to think the fastest way anywhere is on L roads in Ireland.  L actually stands for little, local, back-roads, barely enough room for two cars to inch past each other.  They are roads where I frequently see my life flash before me as I round a narrow curve, expecting either car or truck to be barreling towards me.  Listen up Google – L roads are NOT faster, unless you’ve lived there your entire life and know the ins and outs.  They are not for tourists or the faint at heart.

We did eventually make it to the cottage just outside of Killarney we were renting, though I must say my nerves were quite frayed.  We also made it into town for dinner, but trying to find the Tesco was a Google Maps nightmare.  I spotted a Lidl store after several mis-turns and called it good.

Before heading to Muckross house, we decided on lunch at the Lake Hotel.  It’s right on Loch Lein, which is quite lovely.  There’s a castle ruin on the edge of the lake, worth exploring.  A nice ‘aah’ moment after the adventures of modern travel.

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Loch Lein, Co Kerry

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Loch Lein, Co Kerry

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Reed Beds, Loch Lein, Co Kerry

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Reed Beds, Loch Lein, Co Kerry

Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 4, 2018

Ireland’s Ancient West

A few years ago, Ireland’s tourism board came up with slogans and travel routes to explore different parts of the country. There’s the Wild Atlantic Way from Kerry to Donegal, Ancient East from Cork, through Waterford, Wexford and up to the Northern Ireland border, and now there’s the Hidden Heartlands in the middle.

We were exploring parts of the Wild Atlantic Way but stumbled upon a hidden gem depicting ancient history in the west at Craggaunowen.

Wooden structures don’t survive thousands of years, so to get an idea of what life was like back in those days, they have to re-construct them based on oral, written, and pictorial accounts.  They have done just that at Craggaunowen.   Located in lovely woodland between Galway and Limerick, it contains a treasure trove of ancient dwellings and artifacts depicting the way people lived back in the Bronze Age.

There is a crannog – a set of dwellings built on an man-made island or stilts in a lake with a wooden walkway connecting it to the mainland.  People as well as animals lived in the crannog so if it came under attack, they could still survive if the bridge was destroyed.

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Another common dwelling place in Ireland was the ring fort.  An earthen bank surrounded the round houses, made of wattle and daub.  There were structures for animals as well as people.  Privacy was at a premium – most places where communal.

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They even had a souterrain, an underground passage used not only to store and preserve food, but could also be used as hidden entrances and exits.

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Souterrain storage as seen from inside the ring fort

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Souterrain outer entry/exit

Bronze Age hunters constructed Fulacht Fia – in-ground cooking pots, by digging a hole, lining it with wood, and filling it with water (or allowing it to fill with rain water).  Heated stones from the fire were dropped into the hole to boil the water and whatever meats or stews they wanted boiled along with it.

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Fulacht Fia – hunters cooking pot

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Hunter’s dwelling

Ogham writing was carved into stone or dangled from wooden blocks in the trees, marking routes and pathways through the once heavy woodlands.

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Look close to see the Ogham runes hanging from the tree

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Ogham markings on the right side of the stone

Portal tombs were the graveyards of the time.

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They even have a re-construction of Saint Brendan’s boat – similar to what he used to sail the Atlantic and discover the Americas – centuries before Columbus.  This one was actually used to re-enact the voyage in 1976.

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Newest of the structures in dating order is Craggaunowen castle – a 16th century tower house.  Even centuries after the crannog, personal spaces were small, but communal spaces large, as that’s where people gathered after the hunt or forage to meet with travelers and tell the tales of the day.

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Wild boars still roam the forest (enclosed in an electric fence).  Along with brown soay sheep.  I’d never seen a brown sheep before.  They look a bit more like goats.  No razors required for these sheep, they shed their wool naturally; you just have to pick it up off the ground.

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Craggaunowen boar

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Craggaunowen soay sheep

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Craggaunowen soay sheep shedding

What an amazing place to visit and explore life from the Bronze Age up to medieval times.  They have re-enactors on site to answer questions and provide demonstrations.  Well worth a visit.

 

 

 

 

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