Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ballycotton Five-O

Scene of the Crime

Running right on time, as usual... (not late but breathing hard)... Pamela and I came up the walk from the Rocket House (they used to store rocket flares for sea rescues in the house), rounded the corner and confronted the scene above.  "GARDA" is the national and local police agency all rolled up into one.  Seems the GARDA van was coming from the left making a steep left turn to go up the hill.  The little blue station wagon coming from above "like a bat out of hell" (according to some of the local know-it-alls, who really do know a lot), failed to stop, or see the GARDA van, had to swerve because of the parked car and side-swiped the GARDA.  Bad move, even in Ireland.

Mick, the local GARDA called in reinforcements who took measurements, administered breathalyzers, interviewed witnesses and when we showed up said ominously, "Is that your car????" Our poor little Opel beastie was the car just to the right of the GARDA van in the picture.  "Yes, we replied, and we need to get my wife to school."  

"Well, you can't move it now, it's part of our investigation.  You see, it's illegally parked." Didn't matter that other cars were illegally parked all over the place.  Ours was the prime candidate for the excuse being formed in the mind of the speeding fender-benderer.  It would be at least an hour before they could release it.  

Those of you who know Pamela, know she hates being late for anything, and that is especially true for a class where impressing the teacher/owner is a major part of the school.  No local taxi's were available, so 15 kilometers and 23 Euros later (about $30.00) she was on her way and I was being interviewed by several GARDA officers.  Have no fear, they now have my Ireland address, my Ashland address, my phone number and my mothers maiden name in case they need to track me down later.

But...But...But... EVERYONE parks illegally in Ireland.  This country would not function if half the roads were not choked with cars blocking the way ahead... and sometimes behind.   There is a delicate protocol for who goes first, who gives way, who acknowledges whom, when cars in opposing directions meet in an already narrow thoroughfare that is at least half blocked by illegally parked cars. 

Everyone smiles or grimaces, as is your mood at the time... and squeezes by with a minimal loss of paint and mirrors.  I would show pictures in motion.... but it would be tempting fate to take my hands off the wheel as we inch by one another.  
Same parking area 1 hour after the accident...

I had visions of being hauled down the local GARDA station, being given a massive ticket, and trying to explain to the car rental company why their car was included in an accident report.  In reality, I received a patient lesson in parking etiquette from a very nice officer in charge and was told they would contact me if they needed more information.  I think he hoped I was leaving the country soon... none too soon.

Problem is, there are simply too many cars, too narrow roads and no enforcement of parking rules anywhere in the country.  It's all handled "with a wink and a nod" and we all try to get along.

As you might guess... there is no parking allowed on the dock in Ballycotton...

Let's face it... it's a small country... absolutely beautiful, and charming, and vibrant, and rich in history, music, politics and tradition... but small.  Most roads originated as cattle paths... were expanded to accept horse drawn wagons and paved over so that modern cars, trucks, buses and the occasional bicyclist could play chicken at forty to seventy miles per hour.  It unnerves you when you think your doing a respectable 40 miles an hour down a country lane and some teenager passes you doing 80, waves and dodges around a corner just in time to not get smeared by a school bus coming in the other direction.

And it's not just the roads... so many of the old stone churches are in ruins, victims of one invasion or another over 1,000 years.  They may not hold services in them anymore, but they are still active as graveyards.  And when the old church yard fills up with graves, they simply move to the interior of the old church and start burying people in what used to be the sanctuary.  
Impressive use of space... rather touching when you begin to read the stones... but definitely a tribute to the compactness of the country and the "don't waste anything" mentality of this resourceful people.

The Church yard... outside

The Church Sanctuary... inside

 Haven't been hauled down to the GARDA station yet.  Might be a fascinating experience.  It's right across from the local pub, and I've already met Mick in there.  I remain a chastened OMOTIC.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Strangers in a Strange Land...

Travel can be a wonderful adventure of places, people, tastes, sounds and textures.  It can also be a grueling process dead ends, fights over direction, bad food and rude people. (I'm developing an extreme dislike for the drivers of certain brand name cars... think they own the very narrow roads.)  But then all this sounds just like home.

Summerville B&B, Galway

In Ireland, most hotels are more expensive that Bed and Breakfasts, substantially so.  Hotels also tend to have lots of amenities and glitz catering to both the Irish and Tourist desires for a good holiday time.

Pamela and I have gravitated to B&B's in our weekend travels.  Quieter, more relational, closer to our areas of interest.

Half-Door B&B, Dingle, County Clare

With some trepidation last weekend, we dined at a boutique hotel just down from the Freeport House B&B.  Pamela consulted several of her foodie books (where where to find good places to eat), and we ended up at our third choice.(busy Saturday night.)  

Freeport House B&B, Barna, Galway

The hotel was named 'The Twelve," it's restaurant simply, "West."  Lots of glass and steel, tourists and locals, mostly young but with a smattering of seniors and families.  They squeezed us into an 8:45 sitting (last of the evening) and we perused what looked like a very good menu.

The food was indeed extraordinary, but what made the evening was our young waitress, Alexandra.  As she took our orders we commented on her French accent here in the west of Ireland.  She was from the Bordeaux region of France, putting herself through graduate school in Galway.

We asked, "what brought you to Ireland?"  
     "I finished my business and hotel management degree and wanted to study accounting and improve                     my English.  It was either England or Ireland.  I chose Ireland."
     "How long til you finish your accounting degree?"
     "Two weeks!!!  Then, my fiancĂ©, who is Irish and a chef, wants to move to Canada, either Quebec or Vancouver."

I didn't even try to describe the 40 below zero winters of Quebec as opposed to the 40 above and rainy winters of Vancouver.  

Alexandra was a gracious, efficient and professional waitress.  She also epitomizes to me the new generations of young Europeans (and some young Americans)... Smart, educated, relational, motivated and mobile... mobile not just in a city to city or state to state sense... but mobile in an international sense.  The world is their oyster (to butcher a phrase).  

O'Flagherty's B&B, Dingle, County Kerry

Almost 50 years ago my first over seas trip was as an AFS exchange student to Peru.  Young and naive, I was nonetheless exhilarated, entranced and excited to discover there was a whole world outside of Oregon and the United States.  

I was equally amazed at how many of my contemporaries back home not only new nothing of the world outside the U.S.... they really didn't care.

Prehistoric B&B in the Burren, a rugged, semi-barren country in County Clare.
(Actually, it's called Pulnabrone, and it's a prehistoric stone chamber and burial place)

50 years later I am still dumbfounded by the ignorance of American youth and the relative awareness of youth in the rest of the world.  America can be so insular as to be a disservice to our youth in a global context.

I raised my daughters to be smart, capable and as worldly as they could be.  Each in their own way spread their wings and traveled and learned and grew.  I am very, very, very, proud of them.

Alexandra would have much in common with my daughters.  As I travel and grow and learn myself, because of these young people, my hope in the future is renewed.

Facing immense trials and difficulties at home and abroad, these new adults are willing to meet their challenges and succeed... in spite of the mess our generation has made of things.

I remain a hope filled OMOTIC.

Monday, June 17, 2013

White Star Line meets Blue Berg

Entry into the Titanic Experience

On 11 April 1912 two passenger tenders slipped from the wooden docks in Cobh (pronounced Cove), County Cork, Ireland.  Since this was an era before Irish independence, the purser announced their departure from Queensland (the British name for Cobh).  The two tenders carried 123 people around Spike Island and out to the ship waiting to take them to America.

Embarkation point from the bay...

The tenders brought back, one Irish priest who had boarded the Titanic in England, but whose Bishop, inexplicably ordered him to stay in Ireland and not proceed to New York.  The priest's photographs of the ship and people on board were discovered some years later at the back of a closet and provide some of the best recorded images of the doomed ship.

The city of Cobh is about twenty minutes from where I am living in Ballycotton, just east of the harbor entrance.  The Ballycotton lighthouse protects the eastern approach to Cobh harbor.  Once a bustling seaport town, indeed a major port for centuries, Cobh is now a quaint, slightly rundown, but proud tourist town whose main attraction is the 'Titanic Experience'.

A small interactive museum, gift shop, information center, the 'Experience' begins by inviting you up the steps of an obviously old, yet well preserved ivory stucco covered building right on the waterfront.  Golden lions of unknown provenance protect the stairway leading into a small entryway.  On the right is a small gift shop full of Titanic momentos.  Straight ahead is a wood enclosed ticket booth where for a modest sum, the visitor is given a photographic replica of the original boarding ticket of one of the 123 passengers who sailed from Cobh that day.  Only 79 of them made it to New York.

My name was John Linnane. I was 61 years old, traveling alone, on a second class ticket.   I was told to hold on to the ticket until the end of the tour where I could check the manifest to find out my family background and most importantly, whether or not I was one of the survivors.

The veranda where First and Second Class passengers gathered to await passage to the Titanic

Up a rather cheesy indoor ramp we were met by a video purser who welcomed us and asked us to proceed through the door at the top of the ramp and out on the veranda overlooking the bay.  We were guided out on this wrought iron enclosed porch of sorts one story above the ground and asked to stand next to a video display.

At this point it begins to sink in that I am not just in a not-so-well endowed museum.  I am actually in the building and on the veranda where the real Titanic passengers stood and waited to board the passenger tenders.  One hundred and one years ago those 123 people stood exactly where I was standing.   The pier, now rotted and weathered, down below us is the actual pier people walked out on.  In fact beside us is a picture of the crowd that day and we are told we are standing in the exact place where a tall man in a bowler hat is standing in the picture.

Remains of the actual pier where passenger tenders moored before going out to the Titanic

I'm not particularly into eerie and spooky... but this was impressive.  We are led into a dark room, obviously intended to be on the ship and informed that we have just struck an ice berg.  For you who have been on cruises, the similarity of tone and language was impressive as our small group was told to assemble at our lifeboat station, number 7, purely as a precaution.  We file through a narrow opening into a lifeboat replica and are confronted by a large screen on the other side of the life boat.

In reality, lifeboat 7 was the first lifeboat to be lowered from the sinking Titanic.  For the next 10 to 15 minutes we have a front row seat as other lifeboats are lowered and we watch the Titanic go lower in the water.  In the end, the ship goes bow down vertical in the water, breaks in half from the stress with the stern crashing down on the sea, only to be dragged by the now submerged bow into the cold dark water.  Until the end, you could here the orchestra playing Nearer My God to Thee.

We are then invited to go into the rest of the exhibit, which has no Titanic artifacts but does have mixed media displays of different aspects of the ship, it's crew, best and worst theories as to what happened, including why rescue ships were too late to the scene to save anyone not in lifeboats.  A replica of the Titanic sits in the middle of the room.  In an alcove, a video is playing a narration by the Irish master of divers from the expedition that finally discovered the Titanic on the ocean floor.

While many artifacts have been recovered, nothing was taken from the Titanic itself, either from
the much damaged stern section or the relatively intact bow section some 700 feet away on the ocean floor.  The recovered artifacts are from the extensive debris field between the two sections of the ship.

John Linnane was in Ireland to visit family after the death of his wife the year before.  He was returning to New York to live with his children there.  He did not survive.

I remain, OMOTIC.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ring-a-ding Dingle

Bank holiday in Ireland.  No one can quite tell me for sure what it means except the banks are closed on Monday (as well as many government offices) and everyone tries to stretch the three day holiday as far as we can.  Pamela and I drove two and a half hours to the western coast of Ireland, County Kerry to the resort town of Dingle.

The Ring of Dingle is a drive around the peninsula with amazing natural and archeological sites, one after another.  Make no mistake, this is a resort town. Lots of locals and tourists dedicated to having a good time far into the wee hours of the morning.  Stopped for tea at a small restaurant, by the time we left a band had set up in the courtyard and was loudly playing a mix of old Irish tunes and ancient American Rock-And-Roll.  An audience of almost 100 had gathered, the local pub was selling beer.  Instant party!!!

The town of Dingle seen from the summit of the Connor Pass (highest pass in Ireland)

Stayed at the OFlagherty's Bed and Breakfast.  They also own a pub in Dingle that has been in the family for three generations.  Angela was a wonderful hostess, full of advice, a rich deep voice and infectious laugh.  She recommended a local archeological tour of the peninsula.  Saturday morning we hopped into a 14 passenger van, and our host guided us on a three hour tour.  First thing he asked of the 14 strangers was where we were from.  All 14 of us were Amercan... from Oregon, Texas, Minnesota, North Dakota, east coast, southern states... he said that was typical for his tours... we all wished for a little more Irish mix.

Off we went careening down one lane coastal roads with traffic going both ways, including huge commercial tour buses coming at you, going around you and sometimes coming to a screeching halt when everyone realized there really wasn't enough room to pass one another between the rock cliff and the small stone barrier supposedly protecting you from a 500 meter drop into the sea.  At this point drivers stare each other down and wait for someone to back up to the nearest wides spot in the road... then we very carefully share microscopic amounts of paint as up to a hundred people on bus, van and assorted cars hold their breaths and pray some nut isn't barreling down on us from around the next corner, oblivious to our dance of drivers, death and the deep blue sea.  Who said Ireland wasn't exciting.

The Blasket Islands seen from a particularly wide section of road.

Off the far western reaches of the Dingle Penninsula are the Blasket Islands.  Gray, bare and somewhat forbidding on our day at the coast, the Islands were inhabited until 1953, when the last residents were relocated to the mainland.  Gaelic speaking, tough, resilient and articulate, they could withstand the elements of nature but not the attrition of their young people off the islands in search of treasure in Dublin, England, mainland Europe or most romantically... to America.  There is a Blasket Island interpretive center, on the mainland overlooking the islands that is surprisingly sophisticated and an amazing honor to the people of the islands.

The keystone archeological attraction is the Gallarus Oratory.  The name in Gaelic means 'church of the place of the foreigners'.  Built sometime in the 5th, 6th or as late as the 12th centuries (depending on the expert your listening to at the time) this small church is built of shaped stones without mortar and is waterproof.  Other oratories like this exist in ireland but few if any in as good a state of preservation.  Hermits, monks, religious pilgrims and others have gathered here for centuries. 

The Gallarus Oratory

We visited several other sites dating as early as the 6th century, and some modern places.  Pottery and jewelry and specialty craft centers dot the picturesque countryside.  The sense of history is not limited to centuries ago.  Our guide gave us a running commentary on the bays, inlets and cliffs used as movie sites for the movies "Ryan's Daughter" and "Far and Away."  I now know where Robert Mitchum stayed during the weeks they filmed "Ryan's Daughter" and where Tom Cruise came out of the Ocean in "Far and Away."  The Irish love and live their history.

Not everything is hunky-dory in the land of leprechauns however.  After our tour of the area, Pamela agreed to accompany me on a three hour eco-tour by boat around the Blasket Islands out of Dingle.  Bless her heart, she layered up to keep warm, we bought our tickets and a nice hot cup of tea while we waited for our boat, the Grevious Angel, to whisk us away.  Tried to go on a boat when we went to Doolin to see the Cliffs of Moher, but the seas were too choppy, as the tour company warned us they might be, and the boats did not run that day.

But the seas were mild, other tour boats had just departed for other locations and our boat came into sight.

The Grevious Angel approaches the dock.

Friend, Pauline, says the appropriate curse is 'May his children never go hungry' but I have other words for the scurvy captain who came within 50 feet of the dock, decided there weren't enough tourists to make it worth his while, turned his boat around and scurried to the other end of the bay, refusing to take us out.  The tour operator was mortified, refunded our money and informed us we had missed the last opportunity to take any boat out on a tour.  Like I said, I have other curses in mind, but I'm a guest in the country and already know this poor excuse for a sailor is not representative of the gracious and generous people we have met.

St. Brendan the Explorer

Speaking of sailors, we have learned about St. Brendan the Explorer, an adventurous monk who started several communities, performed miracles but most impressively went on a sea voyage with fellow monks.  They had many, now well published, adventures... most spectacularly an account that experts now believe was a trip across the Atlantic to Newfoundland long before Columbus and even long before Eric the Red sailed out of Scandinavia.

St Brendan's Cathedral, or what's left of it is in Ard Fert, north of Tralee.  It has been built, rebuilt, burned, destroyed, added to and subtracted from over the centuries, but in addition to a Friary nearby is still an attraction and point of interest for those following the religious and cultural history of Ireland.

Wide angle shot of the interior of St. Brendan's Cathedral

On our way home we took the long route around the southwestern tip of Ireland, including much of County Kerry and County Cork.  Kate Brown's pub was a wonderful stop for lunch, with an eclectic collection of art and artifacts to entertain the visiting tourist. 

Interior of Kate Brown's Pub... strange artwork

Stopped in Skibbereen for tea and biscuits at a restaurant called 'The Church Restaurant.'
Stained glass windows, lovingly restored, overlooked what used to be the sanctuary.  Tables on the main floor echoed more eating places in the balcony.  One poster next to the wall depicted a burned out sanctuary.  Turns out, the owner bought the church, turned it into a restaurant, it burned in 2002, and by 2006 she had lovingly restored it.  But the surprise we discovered in the fine print was that since 1833 the church had been a Methodist Church... and a small Methodist community still meets in Skibbereen every Sunday.  That's some form of church karma Pamela and I have.

The Church Restaurant... Methodist from 1833

For all our United Methodist friends, I am not recommending this for us!!!!  But even in Ireland, surprises abound and I remain OMOTIC.

New use for an old Methodist Church

Saturday, May 25, 2013

We’re All In Our Places, With Bright Shiny Faces…

Finally got a taste of what Pam goes through.  Last February, as we were putting together plans for the trip, a notice came by email of a special class that would be offered in addition to the regular Ballymaloe Cookery Course.  An entire day’s seminar on how to butcher a pig.

 The Pig is My Friend

Pamela of course was ecstatic.  But instead of signing just her up for the day’s festivities, she wanted me to join her.  Oh Joy….  Now, I’ve done my share of hunting and fishing, gutting and skinning, but facing a whole pig at nine in the morning with sharp knives flying in different directions wielded by God knows who… Ah c’mon.

But like many experienced husbands, (notice I did not say noble, wise or intelligent husbands) I knew a happy wife makes for a happy me.  Besides, in four months the world could come to an end, Ireland could fall into the sea, the pig could make its great escape.  I said O.K., sign me up.

The morning dawned bright and shiny over Ballycotton.  Not too much rain, or wind.  The car didn’t break down.  I didn’t (couldn’t) oversleep.  It was me vs. the pig.

Lo and behold, my first break came when I learned it was demonstration only… no hands on cutting.  Actually, I’ve been practicing my knife sharpening skills and was almost looking forward to the challenge.  Almost.  About forty of us arrived to coffee, tea and cakes to calm our fears and let us get to know one another.

We walked into the modern classroom, mirror over the presenter to show his every move and close circuit television to project the scene on flat screens to the sides.  And there in all it’s glory was… The PIG… or rather just half of it.

First part of the course, with the pig staring right at me, was a short lesson on knife sharpening.  As a consistent failure at this culinary art, I was fascinated, almost hopeful, but mostly wistful that at least some people in the world know how to keep a sharp blade. 

With a meat saw and two 6-8 inch blades (very sharp), our host proceeded over the next three hours ( with a civilized break for tea and biscuits) to expertly follow the joint lines and reduce the hunk of meat to its beautiful constituent parts.  The rule of thumb is ‘nothing is wasted’

The head was boiled to make head cheese, including the ears and snout.  The only items immediately thrown out were the lymph glands… give a bitter taste to the meat and contain far too many bacteria.  Remember you health 101 class and the purpose of the lymph glands???

  The Pig is My Food

After a lunch of wood fired pizza ( a Saturday specialty at Ballymaloe), fresh salad and cream puffs in chocolate sauce with rhubarb compote, we trudged back to the slave shop (classroom) and were treated to an afternoon of making sausages, salamis, stocks, and terrines of potted meat.

I’ve always heard that if I saw what went into a hotdog or sausage I wouldn’t want to eat it.  But watching the process in person with quality ingredients was an impressive experience.  

Was it my idea of JOY on a Saturday.  No… But I was with a beautiful woman, who was having a great time.  We had delicious food, an entertaining host, an international group of charming people and delicious pig to eat at the end of the day.  Not bad for OMOTIC.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Settling in....

From grey to blue... challenging to the budding water colorist...

As you may have surmised, my favorite spot at home is looking out the window at Ballycotton Bay.  Day or night, always something happening.  From local lads fishing off the pier to substantial trawlers bringing in the catch for the Ballycotton Seafood Company, Becky's Home Delivery Seafood, and other sellers of seafood in the area, including the renowned and ancient English Market in Cork.

Hope to get out on one of the charters before we leave.  Diabetes, arthritis and wobbly legs do not necessarily make for a joyous seafaring adventure... but I can't resist.  With just under 500 permanent residents, Ballycotton is both working fishing village and resort town for those escaping their normal lives.  It's also home to a famous and effective rescue boat station.

Pamela and I are settling into what passes for domestic routines.  I have her at school by 8 a.m..  Then I go to the nearby Garyvoe Hotel which offered a special deal to Ballymaloe people in their Health Spa.  It's not the YMCA in Ashland, but I get in a ninety minute workout in the pool before doing the day's shopping in one of several local villages.  Once or twice a week I'll go into Midleton, a community of about 12,000 with major chain outlets.  On Wednesdays I go to my watercolour painting class (with several delightful ladies, learning to paint flowers and landscapes).  

Home to more domestic chores, dishes, laundry, light cleaning.  With luck I get a short nap before picking up Pamela between 5 and 6.  Back home to cook dinner or have it cooked for me (yes it blessedly happens more than I deserve.) We watched TV a little in the beginning days, but haven't turned it on for several weeks now.  Pamela works very hard on her next days lessons and plans and ironing her professional outfits.  And then it begins again.

Too soon after our arrival, all three daughters plus grandson, plus son-in-law descended on us for a week.  Wish we had more time to get to know the area before they came.  But it was fun.  Got Noak (grandson) into the house turned him towards the window and he joyfully cried out AGUA... BIRDIES...  


Of course the white caps glistened and the seagulls swooped in for a closer look.  Noak was enchanted.  
I was a momentary hero... life is good.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Blarney Castle Promotional Poster

 In the late 1500's Queen Elizabeth I,  had a problem.  How to quell the perennially rebellious Irish.  She tried displacing them with loyal English families but the Irish would simply not die off or go away.  Next the queen tried to bully the local chiefs into agreeing the land belonged to her, not them.

Cormac MacCarthy, Lord of Blarney Castle, greeted the Queens emissaries with warmth and hospitality, good food and many, many, many words of admiration for the queen.  He sent long letters to her passionately extolling her virtues and her greatness.

But he never got around to agreeing the land belonged to Her Majesty.  After numerous attempts by many royal representatives, the queen was heard to respond to the latest flowery missive with "that's just a lot of Blarney."  The legend, among many, many others was born.

The Blarney stone is rumored to have come from the mystical middle east.  It also was thought to be part of Scotland's royal 'Stone of Scone'.  The story (just one of many) goes that one of Cormac's ancestors sent troops to aid Robert the Bruce defeat the British in the battle of Bannockburn in 1314.  In return for that service the Scots split the 'Stone of Scone' in two giving half of it to the Irish.  The Irish half became the Blarney Stone.

Don't like that story... there are innumerable others.

Like the 22 year old young woman from Oregon who wanted to celebrate her birthday by kissing the Blarney Stone.  Our youngest, Britta, dreamed of this for years.  Wouldn't you know, Blarney Castle with its infamous stone is only half an hour from where we're living.  I was doubtful.  Rick Steeves all but dismisses it as not worth your time.  But daughters are insistent.

I've seen pictures of people kissing the Blarney Stone.  It always looked to me that the stone was part of the foundation of the castle.  Whoaaaa... was I in for a surprise.  If you notice the castle in the following picture.  Notice especially, after climbing a hill, and a good number of steps to get to the castle base, the Blarney Stone is at the top of four stories of slippery narrow winding steps with only a two inch rope hanging down the center of the stairs for support.
The Blarney Stone is through that little bit of light above the three sets of perpendicular windows.  To kiss it, you lean over backwards and lean out into space upside down....Absolutely insane!!!

OMOTIC was not impressed.  Neither were his half numbed diabetic legs.  But with two lovely daughters behind me, ostensibly to catch me if I fell... in reality ready to catch my demise with iphone cameras... I began climbing up wedge shaped, did I say slippery, rounded stairs, some between 10 and 12 inches high per step.

Couldn't let the girls down.  Made to the top in time to record the blessed event.
...there is nothing but space below her head for four stories...

Obviously one happy kid... and one very relieved OMOTIC...
As to practical implications, she can already out talk me, so who needs an extra gift of Blarney?  Let's just add it to the ever expanding repertoire of Blarney stories.  Britta is now safely home in Oakland, trying mightily to catch up on homework postponed for what I hope was the trip worth the time.  Come to think of it, she made need that extra blarney to get a good grade.

What I need is time in a hot tub, some really good Jameson's Irish Whiskey and a wife to say 'poor baby'.  Hey one out of three isn't bad.  I can't count on extra blarney because NO... I did not kiss that stone!!!!!  My miracle was making it back down those XX##@$$%$$ stairs.  I remain, OMOTIC.

The stairs going down were much more civilized... even had
a metal hand rail....

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Spasmodic OMOTIC

Yes dear friends, we are still alive.  A whirlwind three weeks find your not so intrepid travelers on their first major trip outside of our home area of East Cork.

The kids, all of them, have come and gone.  wish we had more time to prepare for their visit, but alas, calendars prevail.

Two of my beautiful daughters, Emma and Britta

Driving on the left had side of the road, which is often narrower for two lanes than Americans have for one, is now less "death sport" than just plain "scary as hell."  

Cramming three daughters, a grandson in a car seat and a son-in-law into a oversized 'bicycle built for two' and then careening down the road festooned with potholes the size of major moon craters, is not my idea of a 'carefree' family outing.  Add in five strongly held opinions as to where we should go and what we should do... Oh... it's family mayhem at its best.

OH BOY, do I like Irish Catsup!!!!

We finally divided forces.  Some took the train, others of us drove.  In our version of 'The Fox, The Goose, and the Grain' We dropped Pamela off at school, came back and picked up one group to drop off at the train, came back for the rest and drove into Cork, (30-45 minutes, depending on traffic).  Then we drove back from Cork in time to pick up Pamela from school, took her and the car group home because we could not all fit in the car at the same time, and drove half way back to Cork to pick up the train people and bring them home.  Dinner was late.

We bought air beds and duvees for everyone to sleep on.  Half of us snore, Crawling over sleeping bodies to get Pamela to school by 8 a.m. was pure joy!!!!

All in all, a carefree week in the land of Blarney.  More about the 'Blarney' experience next time.

Will leave you with pics of grandson at the FOTA wildlife park.  It's sort of an Irish wildlife safari except the people walk around the park gawking at the lightly fenced in animals.  Grandson's biggest thrill did not roar, squeak, quack or slither.  He loved the little train that circled the wildlife park.  "Bye Bye train"  "Bye Bye Train"!!!  "Hey kid look at the giraffes, they have two foot long tongues."  "Bye Bye Train... Bye Bye train."

Bye Bye train....

Bye Bye Train....

Oh well - so he's going to be an engineer, not a biologist.  I, however, remain your faithful OMOTIC.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Other perspectives...

PamALot on the way to school!

She shows you all her wonderful food... but narry a picture of her beautiful self.  This is my happy wife on her way to her second day of school.  Too early for her to take over the place... but she's soaking it all in... in love with the people and their spirit and the amazing organization.  So far, every night she comes home to a home cooked meal... Yeah, I cook it.  She says she'll take over soon.  I'm planning my menus.

I just stoke the fire place, hand her a glass of wine and some cheese, and ask her what vegetable she wants with the main course this evening.  Right now, the dishes are done, the laundry is finishing, and the bed is made with clean sheets.  Wheeeeeeeee...

  The view from across the little bay looking at Ballycotton, our home.

From Garryvoe beach, home of the Garryvoe Hotel, we see the peninsula ending with the town of Ballycotton.  Known for its commercial and sport fishing, there is even a well known 'Ballycotton Fish Market.'  It's currently ten o'clock at night and the last of the sport fisherman have left the pier.  The commercial folk will be along early tomorrow morning, weather permitting, to try their luck.

Weather is still cool and cloudy most of the time.  Residents say it has been a cold, cloudy spring and the farmers are worried.  Crops should be further along by now. Fishing, of course, also depends on the weather.  It's been foggy early but the boats are still getting out and it tends to clear up by midday.  Temperatures remain cool for now.

View from the dock at Ballycotton looking up to the Rocket House

The above view is from the end of the pier here in Ballycotton.  Our home, 'the Rocket House' is just above the mast of the middle boat in the picture. (house is yellow with white window)  Pamela and her friend, Pauline, figured out the name rocket house must come not from its aerospace origins, but from a type of arugula named, naturally, Rocket.

The orange boat in the middle of the picture is the rescue boat.  Ballycotton's volunteer rescue crew have a long and fairly famous history of rescues to their credit.  Every day or so, the crew comes down, cleans up the boat and roars out of our little bay for a practice run.  Fun to watch, critical to a way of life here.

All three daughters arrive within 4 days along with son-in-law and grandson.  Where 'O where will we put them all.  We'll all be together for a week of fun, frolic and sibling mayhem.  I'm frantically seeking diversionary scenarios.  No lack of castles, blarney stones, wildlife museums, distilleries (hey, my grandson has to learn the finer things in life, sometime)  and anything I can find thats Irish.  Duh!!!!!

Between now and then I remain, OMOTIC.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"First day of school...."

                                              "View from the Rocket House - early evening"
Dropped off the Swedish Tiger at her school this morning.  Didn't have to fix her breakfast or pack her a lunch... It's a cooking school after all ('cookery school' in Ireland).  She will eat very well for the next three months.  I had a fried egg and tea with milk back at the Rocket House.  I know... poor OMOTIC.

Didn't get to the book of Kells or the Guiness complex in Dublin this time.  Instead spent a wonderful two days with Pauline and David.... gracious, caring informative hosts.  Did get to see the some of the sights South of Dublin including Glendalough, Sugar loaf mountain, Dalkeny and the Enya's castle home.

                                         "The Coastline south of Dublin along the Irish Sea"

It's official folks.  We were walking a steep trail up to a vista point overlooking Dublin and the Irish Sea.  I had my walking sticks and was huffing and puffing up the hill at my own pace.  A young family passed me up and the little boy looked at me, looked at his dad, and said "Look at that Old Man, daddy."  His dad tried to hush him up... but the truth was out.... I really did look the part.

Made it to the top, though.  Saw a panoramic view of the city, the bay and the south coast.  The Irish seem to do a fascinating dance of living in the past and the present simultaneously.  References to historical events six, eight or twelve hundred years ago seem as fresh as the current economic doldrums of the Celtic Tiger, which is what they call their economic boom in the early 2000's.

Drove south along the coast past Wexford and Waterford on Sunday.  Made it to Ballymaloe about 2 p.m.  Checked Pam in, had tea and scones and arrived at the Rocket House in Ballycotton about 4 km. from the school.

Would love to say I'm going out to explore the countryside... may yet do that... but Pamela charged me with learning how to operate the all-in-one clothes washer and dryer.  Have tentatively located resources for fishing gear and painting supplies... so, all is not lost.  In all things great and small, I am OMOTIC.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Three close calls and one "near death experience" later.

After being up for 24 hours and traveling for 15 of them, I hopped into a new rental car at the Dublin airport, killed it twice just getting out of the parking space, asked Pamela to keep yelling at me 'keep left!!!!', hit the first round-about out of the airport and tried to go the wrong way.  'Keep left... Keep left'

Pamela sat on the left side yelling 'your too close... your too close' while all the time I'm facing an onslaught of double decker buses coming from the other direction half way into my lane.  Thus began our journey through rush hour Dublin in search of our B&B for the evening.

By dead reckoning we got within about 4 blocks before taking a wrong turn into a bus only lane... 'keep left.... keep left!!!'  An hour later we finally found a street on the map... reconnoitered and arrived at Number 31 Leeson Close five minutes later.  Yes, GPS would have helped, but our old GPS buggered out and we didn't have time to order a new one before leaving home.  Amazon UK has already received the order.

Having survived the present, we decided today to visit the past.  Mary Gibbon's Tours took us in one of those huge buses along perilously narrow country lanes to Newgrange and Tara north of Dublin in the Boyne Valley.

Newgrange is a burial mound/chamber 80 meters across, 10 meters high constructed approximately 3000 B.C.E. at least a thousand years before the pyramids of Egypt were built.  It was constructed as a burial chamber with an entrance tunnel accepting the sun's light for only five days surrounding the winter equinox around December 21st of each year.  Be clear this is a stone age structure, astronomically accurate, predating Celtic culture, Mayan pyramids, bronze and iron ages.

It is the most intact, undisturbed structure of its nature in the world.  After squeezing through a 30 meter long tunnel (I do mean squeeze... these people were not fat old OMOTICs... there were several spots I had to inhale to get past the rock walls....)  we arrived in a twenty foot wide circle of rock with niches where mostly ashes and some bones of people were stored.  Glad I'm not claustrophobic because they then turned out the lights and allowed a simulated sun to shine weakly into the room from the direction of the entrance. Upon leaving we passed the site of the Battle of Boyne ( more about that later.)

Next came a visit to the hill of kings, Tara.  This is the place of coronation and residence of the High Kings of Ireland.  For centuries the most prominent structure on top was a large stone phallus.  The High King was expected to guarantee fecundity of the people and the land from this spot.  If he didn't he was usually beheaded and a new more 'fertile' king installed.  More often than not the High Kingship was established by a constant running battle between the many, many lesser kings of Ireland throughout the centuries.

A somewhat smaller cross now sits next to the phallus, reminding us how the church co-opted much of ancient Irish history and religion in a brilliant move to bring the people into the faith... St. Patrick had a real knack for this.  Tara, by the way may sound familiar as it was the name given the estate in "Gone With the Wind" by Scarlett's Irish father.

More history tomorrow... the Book of Kells and the Guinness Brewery.  Hey, who says beer isn't history?


Tuesday, April 2, 2013


"In late antiquity and through the Middle Ages, the Irish were called Scotti or Scoti in Latin, and Scotus at the end of a name denoted Irish ancestry.  Ireland was called Hibernia, sometimes Scotia in Latin.  Scotia Minor, the name applied to the Irish colony in northern Britain, was eventually shortened to Scotia or Scotland."  (Thomas Cahill)

Ahh what trivia we learn when we at first attempt to educate ourselves about the places we hope to visit.  When we came to Ashland two and one-half years ago we knew there was a Shakespearean festival and a United Methodist Church and little else.

After so little time we appreciate the amazing people, the Rogue Valley culture, wineries, breweries, and more cultural events and festivals and artistic energy than we could have imagined. We had no idea.

I'm thinking our short slice of time in Ireland will feel like a whirlwind, especially for a people and a place with so much history.  One of their best preserved ancient places predates the pyramids.  The Irish are famous for 'battling with such joy and singing with such sadness.'  

I'm just beginning to understand the Celtic influence (hard C) which was not the first in Ireland.  And I had no idea who St. Patrick really was, or the immensity and consequences of his work not only in Ireland but in throughout all of Europe.  See Cahill's "How the Irish Saved Civilization" for a wonderfully romantic historical overview.

So I plug along.  I hope to fish, to paint, to pub crawl and learn a little Gaelic... make some friends and maybe even try my hand at the Irish bagpipes. (they don't blow into them.  They have a bellows that is worked by the left arm that pushes air through the pipes... who knew?)

Well, of course, some of you people did.  But remember, I'm OMOTIC... slow, patient, and full of surprises.  


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Since September, Pamela and I have been preparing to go to Ireland.  She will attend the Ballymaloe School of Cookery.  I intend to explore, hike on my bad knees, fish, paint,  pub crawl and generally soak up Ireland.

We will be living in a place called the Rocket House overlooking the bay at Ballycotton on the southern Irish coast.  It has a rich history and is known as a popular deep sea fishing port. (see pic at top of the blog)

For the foodies among you, see Pamela's blog... I'm sure you will get a 90 day blow by blow description of all things culinary. I'll let you know when she has it up and running.

From me expect the personal reflections of this old man (yes, I'm only 63, but my knees and heart tell a different story.)  Having been a ditch digger, a retreat manager, a pastor, a lawyer and a university instructor (criminal law), I hope to use all of these lenses to soak up what I can of the people, the culture, the land and beer... oh yeah, the Jameson's Irish Whiskey factory is only 7 miles from my new home...the food, and the history.

Anyone know a good primer for learning Gaelic?  Evidently, the teaching and use of Gaelic in Ireland is on the rise given the historical attempts of the British to wipe out the language.

I hope to illustrate this blog with snapshots from my IPhone to relieve the boredom.

Please feel free to email me and/or comment on the blog with your own observations, experiences, hopes and dreams.

Right now we are in the final three weeks of preparation.  Pamela is sweating the details of leaving her church for 3 months.  I am trying to care for the myriad details of preparing our finances, our home for others to live in, and hassles with drug companies, (I have way to many prescriptions needing filling for over 3 months).  Oh so many details... and I am not by nature a detail person.

Stay tuned for the exciting adventures of OMOTIC.