Zero degrees F this morning. But nice and sunny. Winter.
I’m still trying to get Medicare squared away. Two days left in January. Fingers crossed. Everybody you speak to tells you something different. Seems like that happens a lot these days.
I watched the The Banshees of Inisherin the other night. It is nominated for Best Picture this year. That doesn’t always mean it is all that great. But I liked it. It was a little strange and a little sad. Just sad. Not depressing. I visited the island a few years ago. The movie portrays life on the island as I had imagined it. Just a few people with not much to do. Isolated. My impression: “On the island we wandered around the ruins, the farmland, the town, the coast. It was beautiful in a kind of eerie way. I saw more farm animals than people.”
Martin O’Direain was an Irish poet from the Aran Islands. He moved to Galway when he was 18, and eventually ended up in Dublin.
The Late Spring by Máirtín Ó Direáin
A man cleaning the clay From the tread of a spade In the subtle quiet of the sultry days Melodious the sound In the late Spring
A man bearing A creel-basket on account of, The red seaweed Shining In the sun’s brightness On the stony beach Lustrous vista In the late Spring
Women in the lake In the lowest tide their coats drawn up reflections down below them peaceful restful vision In the late Spring
weak, hollow beating of the oars currach full of fish coming to the quay over the golden sea at the end of the day in the late Spring,
The book I’m reading this week is The Tin Man by Sarah Winman. It is about love, friendship and things that might have been. It jumps from past to present to past and is sparse on punctuation. It tells the story from two different perspectives. It is engaging.
This is the week of getting things done. Car oil change, taxes, dusting. Going to the gym. Re-booting myself. Going shopping. Buying art supplies. Getting paint to brighten up my kitchen cabinets. Sorting out my closet and bookcases. Projects projects project. Motivation!
My sense of time has been all messed up this week. All day Thursday I thought it was Wednesday. And my weekend plans were looking like a distant future. Yet, here we are. The day after Friday. Dark and snowing. I’m looking forward to December 21, when it starts getting light again.
The Winter Solstice. I am reminded of my trip to Ireland a few years back. We visited New Grange, a Neolithic period World Heritage Site. At New Grange there is one large mound built built 5,000 years ago, before the Pyramids of Egypt or Stonehenge in England. It is an incredible display of engineering, not to mention beautiful and kind of eerie. Everybody who visits is required to join a tour. We were led into the mound for a demonstration of how the Winter Solstice lights up the cave-like structure. It is something I would like to see for real sometime. It was very cool. I am not a fan of small tight spaces and almost didn’t go in but luckily we weren’t in there very long so I didn’t have time to panic.
I decided I was not going to watch Harry and Meghan on Netflix. But I gave in and watched it. I can’t resist some good gossip. Only the first three episodes are available. The rest come out next week. Such a tease. It hasn’t changed my opinion of them but it was well done. They spend a lot of time going into English history and the Commonwealth and the slave trade and diversity and unconscious bias and mixed race. And of course the relationship the Royal family have with the press. Rather dysfunctional. Bottom line really is “who cares” but interesting none the less. Rich people’s problems….
Years ago I read the Nero Wolfe mystery series by Rex Stout. Nero Wolfe is a private detective who lives in a brownstone in Manhattan. He has a greenhouse on the roof where he grows orchids. He drinks beer and has a private gourmet chef. He is very fat. His assistant Archie Goodwin does all the legwork for him. Nero mostly drinks beer and thinks. The meals Fritz, the chef, prepares are described in detail and in 1973, the Nero Wolfe Cookbook was published. Rex Stout wrote 33 Nero Wolfe novels. After his death in 1975, Robert Goldsborough continued the series and published as recently as 2021. Apparently Rene Magritte was a fan of Nero Wolfe and titled several of his paintings after the books. When the League of Frightened Men was published in French it became Les Compagnons de al Peur (the companions of fear). Magritte painted the Companions of Fear in response to the Nazi occupation of Brussels (1940). It is a very different painting than what I normally think of when I am thinking about Magritte.
Les Compagnons de la Peur, Renee Magritte, 1942
So the whole point of this long explanation is, I just started reading the first novel in the series again, The League of Frightened Men. It holds up surprisingly well.
The Promenades of Euclid, Renee Magritte, 1955 (one of my favorites)
In an Opinion piece in the New York Times this week the phrase “it is what it is” is described as: “It relieves you of coming to a conclusion, forming an opinion, developing an action plan — and even worse, tries to be cute about it.” “It marks an intellectual and moral surrender”. The writer loathes the expression even as he continues to use it. I, on the other hand, like the expression. For me it feels like something a good buddhist would say. Let it be. You can’t do anything about it. It is what it is. Let it go. Why do you need to form an opinion or develop an action plan about everything? Calm the f*** down!
As you may or may not know I am interested in my genealogy. I spend hours down the rabbit hole at Ancestry.com finding tidbits. My current obsession involves my mother’s great grandmother who came from Perthshire, Scotland. I am planning a trip to visit the place next year so it is kind of cool to read about the farms they owned and rented over the years. A bunch of them were ministers so they worked in different parishes around the area. Mostly I just want to go to soak up the atmosphere and imagine what it was like back in those days.
On another note… I found this recently and am pretty amazed by the detail. My great grandfather (this one came from Ireland) was born in Ohio on March 2, 1841. In 1861 he was teaching district school in Monmouth, Illinois. At the breakout of the Civil War he enlisted in Company C, Thirty-sixth Illinois Infantry, and was sent to Missouri. The first battle in which he participated was at Pea Ridge. He helped to save Missouri to the Union. He was transferred to the Army of the Tennessee, and was at the siege of Corinth. In September, 1862, he was transferred to the Army of the Cumberland, and took part in the battle of Perryville and in the campaign of Stone River. The following spring he was in the Tullahoma campaign, then went to Bridgeport and through Georgia, and took part in the battle of Chickamauga, where he was wounded, being shot through the cheek, the ball coming out the back of the neck. He was then sent to the hospital at Nashville, Tennessee, remaining there till the expiration of his term of service, when he was mustered out in September 1864.
After that he taught for six more years, got married, had four children, farmed for a couple of years, and ended up in Iowa in the grocery business. He died at 66.
I actually have his discharge papers from the Army. When he died in 1907, his wife started to collect a pension of twelve dollars a month. In 1916 an Act of Congress approved by the President granted “increase of pension of a widow who was the wife of a soldier, sailor or marine during the period of his service in the Civil War, or who is the widow of a soldier, sailor or marine who served in the Civil War, the War with Mexico, or the War of 1812, and who has reached the age of 70 years”. The pension was increased to $20 per month. And then in 1917, it was again increased to $25 per month. I don’t know what happened after that. She died in 1923.
Anyway I have tons of info. I hope to put it all together at some point. Like I said, I have no shortage of projects.
My brother is currently in Ireland and posting photos. It made me think back on my trip to Ireland in 2019, just pre-pandemic. Ireland is a beautiful country full of friendly people and enchanting castles. Here is a re-cap of my trip.
Dublin – highlights:
Tour of the Castle National Art Gallery National Archeological Museum – very cool Trinity College – must see Chester Beatty Library
There is plenty to see in Dublin, several churches, and parks, and some shopping. Pubs and tourist attractions. Guinness does a tour. We did a lot of walking around town. We found a great Italian pizza place and a nice pub, and other good restaurants in our neighborhood. Our hotel was very centrally located.
I think most first time travelers to Ireland take the southern route through Waterford, Cork, Killarney, Limerick. There is a lot to see in Ireland and I picked a northern route because there were certain things I wanted to see. I saw everything I set out to see. Next time, I would like to go to Northern Ireland, to Londonderry. But this is what we saw on this trip.
We picked up our car at the airport in order to avoid Dublin traffic. We were heading north to County Monaghan. Our first stop was Brú na Bóinne. This is a Neolithic period World Heritage Site comprised of Knowth, New Grange, and Dowth. We spent three hours touring Knowth and New Grange.
The Knowth site has one large mound and 18 smaller ones. We were shown a film of the interior and were able to look down the passageway but could not enter it. However we could climb on top of it and see a spectacular view of the surrounding farmlands.
Highlight of the trip:New Grange consisted of one large main mound. Everybody who visited had to join a tour with a guide. At New Grange we were led into the mound for a demonstration of how the Winter Solstice lights up the cave-like structure. I’m sure the real thing is much more impressive but it was very cool. I am not a fan of small tight spaces and almost didn’t go in but luckily we weren’t in there very long so I didn’t have time to panic.
Both places were built 5,000 years ago, before the Pyramids of Egypt or Stonehenge in England. It is an incredible display of engineering, not to mention beautiful and kind of eerie.
Our next destination was Ballybay. This was the place my family listed as their home when they boarded the ship for America back in the early 1800’s. Since I had spoken with a genealogist in Dublin, I knew they had probably not come from the town itself but the general area, I was really more interested in the countryside. The area was lovely with farms and rolling hills. We drove through the middle to town, took a couple of pictures and kept going north.
We spent the night in Monaghan which is almost to the border with Northern Ireland. We were there in October and I was a bit surprised to see our hotel all decked out with Halloween decorations.
Monaghan – Westenra Arms Hotel The Diamond, Monaghan Town, Monaghan, Ireland. Phone: 047 74400
There was a small interesting museum in Monaghan and an impressive church. Monaghan County Museum, 1-2 Hill Street, Monaghan, Ireland – 11 am to 5 pm
After spending the night in Monaghan, we headed west. The road took us into Northern Ireland several times along the way. We could tell because the road signs looked different, otherwise there was no indication.
Monaghan to Westport (3 hrs)
We stopped at Turlough – Castlebar on our way. National Museum of Country Life – 10 am to 5 pm Traditional Folklife collections
Across the street from the museum was the Turlough Round Tower from the 9th century – one of the most complete and best-preserved round towers in Ireland. Round towers were built as places of refuge for the occupants of important Churches or Abbeys against the Vikings. It was one of my favorite things.
Westport – We stayed the night at the Westport Coast Hotel right on waterfront.
Next morning we headed out – Westport to Clifden – 1.5 hours
Our first stop was Kylemore Abby. Originally built by a wealthy doctor from London for his wife, this has been home to the Benedictine nuns for 100 years.
The nuns ran a girl’s boarding school out of the Abbey from 1923 to 2010. They currently offer Residential and Day Retreats. The grounds included a Gothic Chapel and Victorian Gardens. The whole setting was very impressive.
Our next stop was just to the southwest of the Abbey at Connemara National Park. Much of the park was part of the Kylemore Abbey estate up until 1980 when it opened to the public. It was a mountainous area with almost 5,000 acres of land. On the way up one of the paths we saw some of the Connemara ponies. It was a good area for hiking.
On the way to Clifden, right on the coast in County Gallway, we opted for a small detour along the Sky Road Loop, a very narrow strip of road that follows the winding coast. The views were spectacular.
We stayed at the Ardagh Hotel that promised to provide us with a top rated seafood dinner. It did not disappoint with oysters and lobster. I opted for the lamb which was also very good.
After spending the night in Clifden, we stopped to buy a couple of sweaters and headed for Ballyvaughan. On the way we took a very narrow, small dead-end road along Lough Corrib. We parked at the end of the road and had a picnic. Sheep were grazing below us, it was drizzling, and the lake was beautiful and eerie.
Clifden to Ballyvaughan – 2 hours
Ballyvaughan – Hazelwood Lodge +353 (0)65 707 7092 Bed and Breakfast
We stayed at Hazelwood Lodge in Ballyvaughan, a comfortable bed and breakfast with a lovely couple who ran it. They were happy to share lots of information about the area. Ballyvaughan itself was not much but it was located in easy driving distance to many things. We planned to stay for four days and take trips from there. Our first outing was to the Cliffs of Mohr (obviously a must-see).
We were lucky it was a beautiful sunny day and not too crowded. From there we drove to Kilfenora to see the Burren Center. We learned about the geology of the limestone covered area, the fossils of sea creatures to be found, and the wild flowers that grow in abundance. At the Burren Center they show a film and there is a small exhibit. Next to the center was the Kilfenora Cathedral dating back to 1200 AD. It is known for its ornate and interesting crosses. Another thing we learned about Kilfenora was the television show Father Ted was filmed there in the 1990’s.
Out in the Burren National Park we took in the desolate landscape with tufts of green pushing through the cracks in the rocks. We stopped at Poulnabrone portal tomb that dates back to neolithic times, between 4200 BC and 2900 BC. It sits in the middle of a large field of rock.
The following day we continued our day trips from Ballyvaughan and headed down a small narrow dead end road onto private property in search of Gleninagh Castle. It was one of the best preserved tower castles we saw. The tower was built in the late 1500’s by the O’Loughlin family and they lived there off and on until about 1840. Next to the tower is a small well which provided them with fresh water. We saw many of these towers up and down the coast, some of them just rubble.
We headed south down the coast road to Loop Head Lighthouse right at the tip of Loop Head peninsula. The first lighthouse on this spot was built in 1640 and there has been one there ever since. In 1971 it went electric and became automated in 1991. Now the house acts as an Inn where people can stay in holiday apartments. The view from up top is spectacular.
On another day we took a boat from Doolin to Inisheer Island, the closest of the three Aran Islands. It was a pretty smooth ride and took about forty minutes. On the island we wandered around the ruins, the farmland, the town, the coast. It was beautiful in a kind of eerie way. I saw more farm animals than people. The islands were known for the Aran Sweater which is usually off-white in color with a cable design and pure wool. We decided the sheep must live on the other side of the island because we didn’t see any.
The boat ride back was another story. It was a rough ride and many were sick or at least looked green. The waves came up well above the windows and we would go up in the air and slam down hard onto the water. I was even a bit uncomfortable and I have never been seasick.
The boat took a different route back because we were to see the Cliffs of Mohr from the sea as well as the cave where Harry Potter was filmed looking for horcruxes. It was definitely impressive but difficult to really enjoy in the moment.
Before we left the west coast we stopped at Corcomroe Abbey built originally in 1182. Monks kept it up until the mid 1500’s when the English Reformation came about and closed Catholic monasteries. It was a beautiful place.
Ballyvaughan to Dublin – 2.5 hours
Dublin – Drury Court Hotel Address: Drury Court Hotel, 28-30 Stephen Street Lower, Dublin 2 Phone: +353 (1) 475-1988 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our last stops in Dublin included Christ Church Cathedral (Dublin’s oldest building), and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Of course we spent some time walking through the Temple Bar area, and we ended our visit at the Hairy Lemon pub eating the most delicious bread pudding I have ever had.