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