St Patrick’s Day Gift: interviews with three great Irish writers


Irish countryside – 2014


Happy St. Patrick’s Day, y’all! I do have a bit of genuine Irish in me, but the bulk of my heritage is English, Scottish and Dutch. What Irish I do have I magnify on March 17th, as one does.

My daughter and I toured Ireland together back in 2014. She was finishing up a semester in Swansea, Wales, so I made the sacrifice and flew into Dublin at the tail end of her time there. I ferried her over for a week or so in Ireland, then we popped back to Wales. I proceeded to take her on a trip around the perimeter, to areas in the north she hadn’t seen during her semester. After dropping her back in Swansea, I took the ferry back to Ireland, spending three more days wandering lovely Dublin.


Trinity College Library


In Ireland I bought a claddagh ring I haven’t taken off to this day. I fell in love with the country. It’s as magical as you’d think, and then some.

My appreciation for the staggering literary tradition of Ireland is boundless. I’ve read a good deal of writing by Irish authors, though not yet the great Ulysses. I’m going to give that a stab over the summer, starting in June, natch, as Bloomsday is the 16th of June. I’ve tried stabbing it a couple times before.

It’s never ended well.

But hope springs.

To celebrate St. Patrick’s day – on which I’ll be sober as a judge, thanks for asking, because old and no longer interested in alcohol – I’m posting three interviews from the Bluestalking Archives, with three huge Irish writers kind enough to indulge me:


An Interview with Colm Tóibín

We had no symphonies, no great paintings, but slowly writing began to matter. Paper was cheap; literacy was the only way out of poverty; London was close and London publishers were interested in stories about strange places. The traditional music survived mainly in the west, and partly because of poverty. The language – Irish – did not survive as well because parents became aware that you would need English to go to England or America, as so many did.



An Interview with Sebastian Barry

The strange thing is, my family was full of both stories and silence. Pregnant with silence.



An Interview with Frank Delaney


Writing drives me. Writing ignites my passion. The challenge of telling a good story clearly and, I hope, in excellent and vivacious language, across a cultural arc that is as wide as I can make it – that gets me out of bed with delight every morning of my life. Just think of it – the very notion of providing a reader with a book that they find enriching and rewarding is a privilege that I try to service every day.


Enjoy the interviews and the day. Have a stout for me.

sláinte mhaith


Patrick Bronte’s Ireland: The roots of a family

The very thought my soul inspires,

And kindles bright her latent fires;

My Muse feels heart-warm fond desires,

And spreads her wing, And aims to join th’ angelic choirs,

And sweetly sing.

May rosy Health with speed return,

And all your wonted ardour burn,

And sickness buried in his urn,

Sleep many years!

So, countless friends who loudly mourn,

Shall dry their tears!

  • Rev. Patrick Brontë, who thankfully did not quit his day job


Reading further in Lynne Reid Banks’s book on the Brontës, I’m finding a certain fascination with their father, Patrick. Such a solitary man, a shadowy figure. What’s known about him is just enough to intrigue. I suppose everyone’s curious about what’s unknown in history. It’s human nature.

The Brontë family literary tradition begins before the girls and brother Branwell. Patrick was himself a poet, though not celebrated as such. Their mother likewise produced at least one known work outside her remaining letters:  “The Advantages of Poverty In Religious Concerns.”

Now there’s a title that fails to intrigue.


Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell Brontë

Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell Brontë


Patrick Brunty was born in Emdale (on the outskirts of Annaclone), Drumballyroney, County Down, Ireland on St. Patrick’s day in 1777, to a family of farmers. The remains of the family cottage still stand:


Bronte Family Cottage, County Down, Ireland

Bronte Family Cottage, County Down, Ireland


And it’s here that Patrick’s own mother, Alice McClory was born:



Alice McClory's Cottage

Alice McClory’s Cottage


One of ten children, Juliet Barker theorizes in her biography The Brontës that his family must have been well-enough off if Patrick hadn’t been required to take on his father’s occupation, instead being allowed to become a teacher at Drumballyroney, where he lived, preached and taught.




That does seem a reasonable theory, though it’s also true he was something of a scholar and a religious man. Perhaps he simply wasn’t well-suited to the farming life, and his parents were benevolent enough to realize it. Or, maybe he was more like his son Branwell, headstrong and too stubborn to make it worth it to expend the energy to force him into what he wasn’t willing to do.

Doesn’t seem all that great a leap, considering the fiery nature of the Irish – not to mention this particular family.

However it came about, Patrick established his own school when he was only 16, going on to become tutor to the children of a man who would one day become his mentor and patron, Mr. Thomas Tighe.  Himself a Cambridge man, Tighe would later pay Patrick’s way through university.


Drumballyroney Church

Drumballyroney Church

Patrick’s parents were buried in the cemetery here, in the family plot:


Drumballyroney cemetery

Drumballyroney cemetery


I’m left wondering why Patrick never returned to Ireland, as no records to the contrary have been found. Was his native country too rustic, too rural and uninteresting? Realizing it wasn’t uncommon for immigrants to leave their home country never to return, I still feel a bit of sadness he left friends and family behind without a backward glance.

And I’ve been to Ireland and seen it. How could a native never go back?

Juliet Barker goes on to write about Brontë’s struggles at Cambridge, how his Irish accent was a stumbling block and made him a curiosity. Letters from some of his contemporaries have been found to contain references to the Irishman who’d come to study, about his challenges, which I can’t help but find strange. Was there so little going on in Cambridge this was all they found to write home about, or was Patrick Brontë that much a local celebrity?

In any event, the father of Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell lived within County Down, Ireland from his birth in 1777 until 1802, when he headed off to Cambridge. In modern-day Ireland, the region from which the family sprung has been given the name The Brontë Homeland, between Rathfriland and Banbridge, a town on the main road between Belfast and Dublin.

He’d have known countryside like this:



Lovely, windy roads like this:



He’d have known Holy Trinity Church in Banbridge:

Holy Trinity, Banbridge, Ireland

Holy Trinity, Banbridge, Ireland

Rustic 18th Century country cottages:


Magherally Cottage, Banbridge, Ireland

Magherally Cottage, Banbridge, Ireland

Not that the moors of Yorkshire are a slouch. But still. It was Ireland that formed him. Its beauty and tradition of storytelling and song made their mark.

What did he remember of Ireland? Perhaps that’s spelled out in reading I have yet to do. Though, from what I’ve read about his break from his past, I’ll probably be disappointed in that wish.


One tantalizing tidbit, another native of County Down, at Annaclone, was a certain Catherine O’Hare, as cited by Wikipedia:

“the first European woman to cross the Canadian Rockies was born around 1835 in the townland of Ballybrick, Annaclone.”


Her Wikipedia link leads to a page stating there is no page at all, though, if you follow the trail starting from Rathfriland, you at least get this:


  • Catherine O’Hare, mother of the first European child born west of the Rockies, was herself born in Ballybrick, Annaclone about 2/3 miles from Rathfriland in 1835. She and her husband, Augustus Schubert, joined 200 overlanders who went west across Canada in search of gold, and blazed the trail for the Canadian Pacific Railway.


And, once again, I’m like a terrier bolting off the trail in search of another rabbit, forgetting the original theme of this post.  Still, one more thing I must share. If you add her married surname, Schubert, to Google searches, you will find her portrait.




And, if you’re inclined to find out more, there’s this at Amazon, the details of which I know absolutely nothing but there it is.

There’s no end to what’s to be known in this world. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.



Summary: My Ireland

“We survive. We’re Irish. We have the souls of poets. We love our misery, we delight in the beauty of strange places and dark places in our hearts.”

– Ellis Flynn, Wear Black


Having finished posting about the first leg of my adventures in Ireland I’m feeling rather contemplative re: what it meant to me visiting the homeland of two of my family lines. Working on all this genealogy lately I’ve been struck, all over again, by the interconnectedness between us all.

Amazingly, tracing back relations by direct lineage and marriage I was able to hit upon a vein ripe with English and Scottish nobility, which sideswiped me. We all want to say we’re related to historical figures and what I found far exceeded that. I’m descended from a governor of the Virginia Colony. The generation before him were nobility from Wales, a fact that pleased my Wales-loving daughter to no end. Because of him, it doesn’t stop there but rather branches out through Europe and back as far as the Middle Ages, because nobility had the advantage of record keeping the poorer didn’t share.

My reaction to all this was, at first, laughter. The generations I know from both sides of my family are not rich nor, on one side, particularly well-educated. They’ve lived in poverty as far back as I’d ever known, farming cotton, barely scraping. So, how does a family of noble origin sink so low? The Civil War, maybe. It knocked the legs out from under entire generations of Americans; it was the great equalizer. The South still has not recovered economically and won’t in my lifetime, nor in my childrens’. It may never climb back to its pre-war economy. There’s justice in that, in one way. An economy built on the backs of slavery has no honor, yet I believe in the right of redemption. So many generations later, I wish things could turn around for them. Sadly, circumstances are stacked against them.

Visiting Ireland the the UK, not realizing I had Welsh ancestry at the time, brings a lot home to me. I identify strongly with the Irish part of my ancestry, you may have noticed. Not only did the red hair and blue eyes come down the line but the sense of humor and a few cultural bits, as well.

I loved Ireland before I saw it and being there cemented my feelings. It’s not just the beauty, which is stunning, but the people I connected with and fell in love with. They’re a kind people, quick to help, expecting nothing in return. They saved me great trouble many, many times. In particular, I will never forget the employee of Irish Ferries who saw me sitting out front of the building at Rosslare, knowing I wouldn’t see a bus or taxi for hours. He walked up to me quickly and with purpose, asked where I needed to go – in this case, Dublin – grabbed my suitcase and led me to the train station, which wasn’t terribly far but was the most hidden station I’ve ever seen – honestly, what were they thinking? He took my luggage onto the train for me, set it on a seat, then disappeared as I was thanking him profusely, almost crying in relief. It was as if my thanking him was an embarrassment; he didn’t help me to impress but out of human kindness.

I ask myself if an American in the same position would have helped me like that and feel ashamed of the answer. If someone newly arrived here, feeling desolate and unwelcome, deserted and even a bit frightened, would be visited by an American guardian angel. Of sorts, I mean. I don’t believe in angels, nor in a God, but after my trip my faith in human kindness has been renewed. Created, actually. I didn’t much believe in it before but there is no denying the Irish and Welsh people are, in general, more kind than your average American, with exceptions of course.

No wonder I felt such joy visiting, torn apart upon leaving. Whether I get there again or not, I have the knowledge some of my people came from that land of empathy and indescribable beauty.

Forever, I will be thankful for that, more than I’ll ever feel pride in my distant noble ancestry. Because the milk of human kindness is the one thing truly without price.






a tramp’s abroad: photo essay of Galway city and the Cliffs of Moher

Yeah, I realize it’s taken me more than double the time to tell you about my two weeks in Ireland and Wales than it did to experience them. And you’re probably sick of hearing that old excuse about how busy I am and how exciting my life is and how my social life consists of rubbing elbows with such literati as Jonathan Lethem, whom I met last Sunday. He was great, generous with his time and shared his thoughts on, among other things, living in New York City and the evolution of books and technology. Hint: he’s not worried about books.

The whole story is long, because I do not have normal days. It involved the failure of Apple Maps (you SUCK) to get me anywhere near the venue, making me 45-minutes late, street parties that forced me to take side detours through a maze of Chicago alleys and a pen that exploded all over me, to top everything off. Then there’s the fact it was nearly 100 degrees and the a/c in my car wasn’t working.

By the time it was my turn to have my books signed I looked like an insane woman, hair standing on end, ink all over both hands, smelling of sweat and desperation. To top it off, I shared everything with him in a rant that tumbled out of my mouth before I could stop it. No, not too humiliating. When I saw him in the bookstore after the signing I apologized for unloading on him, begging him not to think of me as a smelly, disheveled bitch. It was no problem, he told me, which may have been designed to make me go away and allow him time to duck out the back door.

What, not enough for you? Happy my life isn’t all sunshine and unicorns?


To save time and having to compose a written post, I decided to go with a photo essay to represent our second Irish bus tour, to speed the process of what’s become a shamefully slow synopsis of my two weeks abroad. After all, pictures are worth blah, blah, blah.



no, not the liffey but the corrib (and it looks like there’s a body floating in it, just below the surface)


 remaining old city wall, Galway city, Ireland


bustling shopping area


note the chicago sign 🙂


home of the claddagh ring


lovely galway





interior – cathedral



wish I knew what this is… yeah, a FLAG, shut up, but which and why


cliffs of moher


 think i’ll throw myself off here when i’m done with life



It was a great tour. We had much more time to stop at less places, so we were able to see everything in more depth. I was miffed we couldn’t stop and buy a claddagh ring in the home of claddaghs, so we wound up buying ours elsewhere. I really wanted to buy Allison’s ring in Galway, not some gift shop. Bastards. Because you can’t go to Ireland and not buy a claddagh ring. Okay, you can, but why? Ditto a wool sweater. I bought one supposedly made on a small charming island off the coast of Ireland (a big charming island), signed by the lass who knitted it. It’s a lovely, bulky fisherman’s cardigan that took up half my suitcase coming home. Oh, but this winter it will all be worth it.

For now, this ends the Ireland leg of the trip. Next up: Wales, then back to Ireland for me. Staying in Wales another month for me daughter.

travel bits from a tramp abroad: get on the bus, gus



I’d never booked a bus tour before Ireland but in order to see more of the country outside Dublin I thought it behooved me to try it. It’s a risk trusting your vacation to someone else, even tour professionals. All you can do is research the route, trust to reviews from past travelers and cross your fingers.

Fortunately, my daughter and I are a lot alike in personality; we’re a good travel partner match. She’s like me in my ability to laugh when things go wrong and find humor in the ridiculous. Stupid inconveniences aren’t the end of the world and disasters that don’t kill anyone make for pretty good memories. Even when the bus tour you booked doesn’t turn out exactly how you anticipated and when buses break down not once but twice in the same trip, leaving you stuck in the middle of the Irish countryside.

There are far worse places to be stranded.

I chose two different tour companies for two separate journeys. The first Paddy Wagon Tours, on Sunday, May 25 for the following itinerary:

The “Ring of Kerry” Tour:

  • Adare
  • Killarney National Park
  • Killarney: Charming Town
  • Torc Waterfall
  • Killorglin (Where?)
  • Dingle Bay
  • Wild Atlantic Way
  • Inch Beach


Paddy Wagon had so many tempting tours it was difficult narrowing it down. In the end, I decided journeying south to Dingle Bay would give us a good cross-section of that part of the country. To be honest, I also chose Paddy Wagon for the garish buses, because I thought it was funny riding in a vehicle emblazoned with the face of a leprechaun. It’s understated and elegant, not whoring national folk traditions at all.

And, full disclosure, I was anticipating Allison’s reaction to finding out she’d be spending a full day in it. I’m always willing to go that extra mile for a laugh.


 paddywagon’tis a fine bus, beggorah!



Lovely Adare! I’ll never forget the blur of its beauty as we drove straight through it. Didn’t get a single pic but no worries, Google:





Adare is one of the reasons I booked this particular tour. Everything I found mentioned what a gorgeous showcase Irish village it is, with thatched-roofed houses: a picturesque beauty with brightly painted front doors, a veritable village in the shire – minus hobbitsses. Would have made for some lovely pictures. We sort of got a glimpse of it as we barreled through, on our way to Killarney. When I turned around in my seat, I think I saw a thatched roof, growing smaller and smaller.

Not to bad-mouth Paddy Wagon; I suppose it was my fault for not realizing listing a town on an itinerary doesn’t mean you actually stop there. Sometimes it just means it’s pointed out on the fly.

Keep that in mind while planning trips, kids.

The driver/tour guide turned out to be lovely; just a treasure. The second one, that is. The first drove us to where he’d left his car at the beginning of his prior shift, where we picked up the driver with a distinguishable personality. Well worth the stop. Our first guide said nothing on the hour long plus drive to his car, save to sit back and rest, as it was so early in the morning. The second was hilarious. A portly gentleman, a good-natured, red-headed stereotypical Irishman, regaled us by singing along to the song “I’m Sexy and I Know It,” which had us laughing so hard we cried. It was all in the delivery. Classic.

If you take a Paddy Wagon tour, ask for the sexy ginger man.


Killarney National Park

Our first actual stop, Torc waterfall:






Lush and verdant, that’s how I’d describe Killarney National Park, based on the fifteen minutes we had to find the waterfall, take photos and get our arses back on the bus. We were so giddy to stretch our legs, it was almost as nice as the waterfall.


 trees – magical and spooky…

From the waterfall we visited the nearby home of a rich person, some man or other who’d made a lot of money (thus was rich). Someone not famous enough to merit actual memory space in my brain. Instead, the link is below my pic:



 muckross house, killarney national park


As for its history, Queen Victoria once visited. Wonder if she was amused?




“The important thing is not what they think of me, but what I think of them.”

– Queen Victoria


In 1932, the house was given to the Irish nation. Now it’s a hotel and conference center, has a magnificent library (which I didn’t see or know about), a book bindery and is generally a pleasant place to walk around – if not in.

And this is the view:



 fit for a queen

You can pay for a horse and carriage ride along the lake path, or, like us, you can wander until you feel you can safely get back to the bus on time. Supposedly there was time to see the interior of the house, as well, though you’d be choosing that over the walk by the lake. Given our time constraint, I think we chose well.



Killarney town was our lunch stop. Unlike Adare, our time here was much more extensive: HERE’S KILLARNEY YOU HAVE HALF AN HOUR TO FIND LUNCH BE BACK ON TIME.



 pretty killarney, where something must have happened once, damned if I know what it was


Allison and I just bought sandwiches, so we could walk around and actually see something. We sort of accomplished that while strolling down the main street far enough to find a mini grocery store. I don’t know how those who ate in restaurants managed. I suppose they just saw the interior of the place and their food. I don’t recall seeing anyone else from our bus while in Killarney. Come to think of it, I barely remember Killarney.

I found the bookshop and we found a church:



take pictures, quick! we’ll figure out what it was later!



What it was:

St. Mary’s Church of Killarney

Present church built: 1870

I found out later there’s much more to Killarney than shops and pubs, things like: lovely churches, a castle, ruins of medieval buildings, etc. But no big deal. We enjoyed cheap sandwiches, went to a bookstore and saw St. Mary’s Cathedral in fast-forward. I feel so worldly, so well-educated.

So ripped off.

If you want to see Killarney, go there on the blasted train, please. Otherwise, you’ll see the bit the tour company wants you to, the commercial parts where money is spent. Interested in Irish history and culture? Go there and hoof it around. What we missed is heartbreaking.

For instance, this:


And this:


I give the bus driver credit, though. He didn’t lie. He said there wasn’t much time and it would be a miracle if we found the medieval castle and made it back to the bus on time.

There are no miracles.



Didn’t see it.




Dingle Bay/Wild Atlantic Way/Inch Beach

This leg was pretty. Very pretty. Our time here was more generous, twenty minutes to half an hour, somewhere in that range. Half an hour to eat and see an entire town, twenty minutes to half an hour to take photos of a beach. Yeah, that sounds about right.


dual Irish/English sign for the beach



Lesson: there are pros and cons to travel by bus, just as there are pros and cons of train travel. Buses take you to more places in a shorter period of time, so you see less of more. Trains are the opposite. With trains you are at least partially in control of your own timetable.

Both allow you to see the countryside, assuming you’re traveling by day. It’s just a matter of how much you want to see in the time you have.

Given the opportunity to do this leg of our trip over, would I choose the bus? Hard to say. I saw a glimpse of Adare, enough to whet my appetite and frustrate me. Killarney National Park was lushly gorgeous but I love history more. Killarney town still frustrates the living hell out of me, knowing what we could have seen but didn’t. Killorglin went missing after we lost time the first time the bus died but Inch Beach and environs were well worth the trip.

Looking back, what I’d do is take an extra month or six and see it all by train and foot. That’s my answer. Stay longer than you’ve arranged or told anyone you’re planning, then make up a story about how you fell, hit your head and got amnesia and can’t recall anything after that. Those photos of you giving thumb’s up by castle ruins? Who knows how they got there? You certainly couldn’t be expected to!

A person can navigate train routes with amnesia, right? And manage to book lodging and eat, maybe buy a few souvenirs.

It’s always easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission. Never forget that.

[I will be posting more photos on Bluestalking’s Tumblr blog:  I’ll let you know when they’re up]

Speaking of Ian Rankin and Scotland (and travelling the world)

Was just going about my business, la di da, when this came through my FB feed:

25 Reasons Why Scotland Must Be on Your Bucket List


I’ve been to Scotland, let’s see… one, two, three times and found it staggeringly beautiful but I’ve never seen any of the sites photographed in this article.





God, my heart just stopped beating.

It isn’t that I don’t love my own country and know we have beauty spots but holy mother of god. I have less interest in what’s here but that’s normal, isn’t it. Do people who live near these sites in Scotland know how fortunate they are? Would any trade for life in the Chicago suburbs?

No, really, would they? Because I have a nice house on half an acre I’d trade in a heartbeat, once my heart starts beating again.

I love rugged countryside, not snow-topped mountains. Areas of tropical beauty, like the Appalachians and Smoky Mountains (named for a near constant haze), leave me breathless but Ireland and Scotland specifically offer what’s most to my taste, rocky and mostly treeless hills and mountains, overrun with heather. In this country we really don’t have that. I take that back. Some of our western states are similar in look but not climate. They’re hot, dry and dusty. Gorgeous for their austerity but too hot by far.


“We were now about to penetrate a country at least two thousand miles in width, on which the foot of civilized man had never trod. The good or evil it had in store for us was for experiment yet to determine, and these little vessels contained every article by which we were to expect to subsist or defend ourselves. However, as the state of mind in which we are, generally gives the coloring to events, when the imagination is suffered to wander into futurity, the picture which now presented itself to me was a most pleasing one. Entertaining as I do the most confident hope of succeeding in a voyage which had formed a darling project of mine for the last ten years, I could but esteem this moment of my departure as among the most happy of my life.”

– Meriwether Lewis (Lewis and Clark expedition)



wyomingThe Grand Tetons, Wyoming

What gets my blood pumping are castles and abbeys and lochs/loughs, history often bloody and filled with major figures history often knows little about, adding to their mystery and potential for new discoveries. I love myth and legend, druids and fairies and shape-shifters, knights, ladies, monarchies… I cut my teeth on Robin Hood and the Tales of King Arthur, both of which my late brother patiently read to me as a child, teaching me to read by alternating pages, helping me stumble along until I learned to read proficiently. He was obsessed with history, as is my older son, who shares my brother’s middle name. My son’s university major? Teaching of History with a minor in languages. Is it coincidence he shares my brother’s name and proclivities? I wonder.

So when I see photos like these of rugged Scotland, castles and lochs and brilliantly colored autumnal mountainsides it reminds me what I haven’t seen and more than likely never will. I recently had a taste of the beauty of Ireland and Wales, and long ago the beauty of Scotland. It all just leaves me wanting more.

I hope my children carry on their wanderlust and see more than they could ever hope. Two have been abroad, my daughter most extensively (studying in Wales for a semester, traveling to Italy, Ireland and Paris) and my youngest is awaiting his turn with as much patience as can be expected. My older son has been to Italy to meet family, planning to study abroad in Italy, maybe Siena or Florence, and will certainly travel to Rome and Venice. He’s already made his lifetime travel list: starting in Portugal and making his way east, visiting Ireland and the UK then looping around for the rest of Europe, bit by bit, over his vacations.


siena3Siena, Italy


I’m fortunate to have been where I’ve been, seen what I’ve seen. As a family we’ve seen almost all 50 states, all contiguous but one of the Carolinas (South?). Hawaii would be nice but I’d rather see Alaska. Traveling as we did, by car, is rare these days and can be mind-numbingly dull. Ever driven the width of Montana? We have and it made us so slap-happy we celebrated all the tiny towns along the way as if they were the gilded streets of heaven. Because there is nothing else in Montana, at least via the West-East highway we took. There was one town sign I still wish we’d have stopped to photograph. It said something like, “Home to Six Nice People and One Jerk,” with photos of all. Funny, of all the states it’s Montana that comes to mind first. Because we made misery so funny, I guess. Misery being a staple of our family vacations.

I’m the most traveled of all of us, by far, having seen most of Western Europe, from Sweden south to Italy, Ireland east to the former Yugoslavia. I saw the Queen of England and Prince Philip in Dundee, Scotland. I sat on the patio of the Houses of Parliament in London, with a P.M. who took me to tea because I’d been a teenage ambassador once. I saw the first President Bush’s limo stuck in mud in Denmark, at a 4th of July celebration. In Austria I climbed in a castle where Richard the Lionheart had been held prisoner. I’ve seen Stonehenge, Glamis Castle (Macbeth), the Matterhorn, parts of Moorish Spain, canals of Venice and Bruges, Belgium. The home of Anne Frank and red light district of Amsterdam, a Lego village in Rotterdam. The Mona Lisa, statue of David and Sistine Chapel, The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen and the Eiffel Tower.

If I die tomorrow I’ll have been better traveled than most people on earth. So how can I complain?

Oh, I still can and do. Justifiably, not really. But it doesn’t stop me. Two more kids left to study abroad mean two more chances to justify flying over to visit. And if one settles overseas? Please let it be Ireland or the UK. Please please please.

Save a room for mom, kids. Or a key and I’ll house sit. If you have any hesitation I’ll blog, in great detail, every little thing about your births and how uncomfortable my pregnancies were.

No pressure.



travel bits from a tramp abroad: duo does dublin



We had but one full day dedicated to seeing Dublin. I know what you’re thinking, a totally American way to see Europe, but originally I’d designated the day we arrived as a sightseeing opportunity. Couldn’t have counted on Allison’s 1,000 hour layover in Rosslare (the core of hell, just wait for it) or my miserable, frozen caffeine-deprived day of total soul crushing, mental defeat. The other two days slated for Dublin I’d previously booked with bus tours into the hinterland, early morning ’til after dark. Since our arrival day was such a fiasco of layovers and delays, minimizing the time we had to see the city our first day, that left not much time at all to see a lot of a lot. It left one day.


Phoenix Park Hotel, Dublin – located, conveniently, near Phoenix Park (duh)

Worse, we slept late on our one full day dedicated to seeing Dublin. Like late late, 11 a.m., after the free Full Irish Breakfast included in the room price had ended.

I had a sort of excuse: jetlag, though honestly it didn’t really hit me that hard. Not so hard as, say, five hours spent sitting in a damn train station watching women walk around with blow up dolls and inflated penises. Allison’s overnight ferry and subsequent long, dull wait for the next train to Dublin was worse for her than my seven and a half hour skyride next to two Irish businessmen soaked in red wine, listening to them laugh like drunken, Irish frat boys then pass out and snore for four hours while I sat wide-eyed, praying for death.

Tired and dehydrated, my eyeballs felt furry. While the businessmen gurgled in their sleep I wondered how much effort it would take to open the emergency door, sucking us all into oblivion over the Atlantic. Fortunately, the low energy of chronic depression saved all of our lives. All hail ambivalence and wrenching sadness! I couldn’t be bothered to summon energy enough to crawl three feet from my seat, cheek to the active petri dish that passed for carpeting.

For once, depression saved lives.

Guiltily, we realized Dublin would be given very short shrift; we’d see very  little in one shortened day. I’d be back for two days before I flew home, so I was good. Not pleased, but okay. Not so for Allison but then she wasn’t even sure what was in Dublin to begin with and ignorance, as they say, makes things suck less. She was along for free room and board, a few dozen pics and some souvenirs, and the assertion she had been to Ireland once.

I guess that’s fortunate?

I’d pre-purchased tickets for the Hop-On/Hop-Off Dublin Tour Bus, little knowing one of the stops happened to be just around the corner from our lodging, the Phoenix Park Hotel. Huzzah! The tour website promised seamless transportation to all major ports of call in Dublin , drop offs near most any part of the city. Videos of happy happy tourists enjoying happy happy times attested to the sheer wonder of it all. Unicorns leapt! Glittery pots of gold overflowed!

I felt rather smug whipping out that email confirmation. I was a planner! Time had been spent poring over maps, googling history and sites and persons of interest. Once we’d bought and consumed the most expensive ordinary sandwiches ever (about, oh, $ 5 for a cheese sandwich), our alternative to a hot Full Irish Breakfast, we stood beside the curb waiting for our super happy fun bus.

Here it comes! Ha ha, it looks stupid, we’ll feel so touristy. It’s cold, let’s sit downstairs. Glad we got tea! Haha! Aaaaand it blows right past.


Okay. Next one. It’s green, does that make a difference? It says Hop-On/Hop-Off, must be a fashion choice. Here it comes, get your camera ready! Aaaaand it blows right past.

Glance at sign, watch, email confirmation. Hop-On/Hop-Off. Check. Two days, paid. Check. Dates match. Check. Glance back at sign. Well, here comes a green one, let’s seeeee…. And it’s gone.

Ask at the hotel! They’ll know!

“YOU ask,” sez Allison.


The clerk wasn’t the same clear-eyed, ruddy-cheeked Irishman from check in, the one who’d expertly circled all the sites in walking distance then scribbled YOU ARE HERE where we were. Haha! So sweet, so funny. So not here anymore. He’d morphed into a she, a less giddily friendly clerk who did know, I think.”It’s across the street,” she said, “just over something something … something something bus stop” in a thick Eastern European accent (maybe Russian?). “Thanks!” a bit too brightly. Back away quickly.

Let’s just cross the damn street. Screw it.

There’s a red one. I’m feeling CONFIDENT. Wave, wave, my good sir!

Reader, IT STOPPED. A friendly smile from a driver completely invested in us, it’s about freaking time. I hand him my printed out email confirmation, glowing with pride. I am a planner! He looks at it. He pulls off his glasses. He looks some more. A little more.


This is not starting well.

“I think…” He scrutinizes. He shows to the tour guide, who scratches her head. “I think you want the GREEN bus.”


“But I don’t want you to stand here forever, so I’ll drive you to a GREEN stop.”

We sit. Oh, how happily we sit. Tra la, this man is our savior. The tour guide chats amiably into the microphone, same old same old to her but she makes it sound new FOR US. Interesting! Dublin is wonderful!

Halt. “And there you are, right as rain, here’s your stop. There aren’t as many green buses but one should be along…. shortly?”

And one was along. Aboard we hopped and I handed my email printout to the driver. “Errr…” Scratching head. “I think you want the RED bus.”

“We were… on… the… red… bus. He said we need the GREEN bus.”



“Well, just have a seat. Can’t have you just standing around.”

We ditched him and his stupid GREEN bus at Trinity College for the Book of Kells and never saw him again. Screw you, Hop-On/Hop-Off, wherever you are. We are the only two tourists on the planet who could NOT manage to figure you out. We are only two but we are mighty. As mighty as my social media reach. Chew on that.


Trinity College Dublin

Book of Kells

The Book of Kells (Trinity College Dublin MS 58) is celebrated for its lavish decoration. The manuscript contains the four Gospels in Latin based on a Vulgate text, written on vellum (prepared calfskin), in a bold and expert version of the script known as “insular majuscule”.

The place of origin of the Book of Kells is generally attributed to the scriptorium of the monastery founded around 561 by St Colum Cille on Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland. In 806, following a Viking raid on the island which left 68 of the community dead, the Columban monks took refuge in a new monastery at Kells, County Meath. It must have been close to the year 800 that the Book of Kells was written, although there is no way of knowing if the book was produced wholly at Iona or at Kells, or partially at each location.

It has been on display in the Old Library at Trinity College Dublin from the mid 19th century, and attracts over 500,000 visitors a year. Since 1953 it has been bound in four volumes. Two volumes are on public view, one opened to display a major decorated page, and one to show two pages of script. The volumes are changed at regular intervals.


Being a planner, I’d also pre-purchased our tickets for the Book of Kells exhibit. Unlike the Hop-On/Hop-Off Bus, our Book of Kells tickets gained us admission as promised.


I have no photos of the Book itself, nor the exhibits preceding it. You can’t photograph anything before the Old Library part of the tour and that only without flash. I previously posted a couple photos of the Old Library, which is so overflowing with history and culture my heart swelled to bursting. Give me that smell of old leather and dusty vellum, dark wood vaulted at the ceiling, anchored to the floor by way of strong, thick columns.

I’m a dork that way. Even Allison, not particularly into old books, found the book making exhibits of interest and took a lot of her own photos of the Old Library.

If she was just humoring me that’s okay. She didn’t make one move to hurry me.

So, no photos of brilliantly colored illuminated pages, sorry. That’s what Google’s for: ripping off copyrighted images since September 4, 1998:





The book gave me chills imagining medieval monks hunched over the vellum, feather pens dipping into brilliant blues and reds and gold inks, scratching away by candlelight. Once in that groove it’s transcendent. I know that feeling of creation, not on this scale but artistic creation as a whole. Hours and whole days fly by. You forget there is anything but you and your art until your back complains or your bladder sends you an urgent signal. Interruptions are irritations. Insistent, though, and once back it takes but a short time becoming immersed again. There’s no feeling of hunger, little of thirst. By the time exhaustion hits, demanding you put the piece aside, you’ve gone so far beyond it’s a sort of high, like starving yourself beyond what’s healthy. Unhealthy, manic creativity is fueled by abuse of the body. The monks would have known this. I wonder how long they lived, at what point the next shift pulled them off their stools and took over. Maddening the only writing they did was transcription and not personal, yet blessed are we the only writing they did was transcription or we wouldn’t have the wealth of culture we do.

For a bibliophile, there are no mental images more romantic as the bald – save for a fringe of hair – brothers sitting side by side, desk beside desk, in a muted monastery away from temptations of life. The handwriting’s so perfect, so tiny. Pencil guide lines are visible on the manuscript as are tiny hairs left unscraped from the calfskin. Hair ducts, too, eliciting a bit more sympathy for the poor animals. Modern books are worth more for content, medieval manuscripts for artistic merit first, more only if you’re either an avid historian or student of religion.

It’s the art: the sweat and labor and meticulous detail. And the romance: the names never known, artists never credited. Nothing left behind save the glorious beauty.





Video with a few details:




I wish I could say we saw loads of other sites after the Book of Kells. Truth is, we went shopping in the shopping district. A hopefully genuine Irish-knit cardigan, sheep coffee mug, few t-shirts and miscellany later we walked back through the Christ Church Cathedral area on the way to dinner and our hotel.






What we saw of Dublin was shamefully minimal. The (short) bus rides took us past monuments and buildings and a crazed-looking person in a leprechaun suit but mostly we saw what we did as we walked aimlessly through the city. If ever we wind up there together again we’ll rectify the shameful waste but this trip was ma & Timmy/Jimmy bonding time, more about time together than sites seen. We saw more than I mention here and it was, all in all, fabulous time spent in lovely Dublin, my new favorite city until the next dislodges it.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

Next up lovely, touristy Killarney, Cliffs of Moher and more…

the two americans? they went that way…


photos: ireland (dublin)




“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a word of what I’m saying.”

– Oscar Wilde


“sphere within sphere” – arnaldo pomodoro

trinity college, dublin


old library, trinity college




street performers, shopping district (note American influence)



 lovely pubs everywhere






 lovely pubs, redux



shopping shopping shopping



 wish i knew – maybe


photos: ireland (dublin)



“When I die I want to decompose in a barrel of porter and have it served at all the pubs in Dublin.”

– J.P. Donleavy




 approach, Christ Church Cathedral


christ church cathedral







the tile




the glass



 understated tomb (knock, knock?)



 translating ireland – at the not-castle


travel bits from a tramp abroad: the meet-up



By the time Allison arrived in Dublin she had to chip the ice off me. She’s been studying abroad in Swansea, Wales since January; this was a much more mature young woman.

As the trip went along she became mother figure and I her child. She was the Expert of All Things. She said this was how things would be someday, anyway.

Not if I can help it. Desperate times, desperate measures, softly into that good night.

We developed new personas. She became “ma,” calling me “little Timmy” or “little Jimmy.” She kept forgetting my name.

Allison: “Come on, little Timmy! You can do it!”

Me: “Shut up, ma! And it’s JIMMY!”

Like the blow up sex doll in Connolly station, no one thought this unusual. Or they were afraid to make eye contact.

I was lagging from seven and a half hours in hell next to an Irishman in polyester and she was tired from the ferry crossing, five hour layover in Rosslare (the core of all hell) and train ride up to Dublin. We still walked around. You can’t not. We oriented ourselves, tramping up and down the Liffey.

We found Christ Church Cathedral. Underneath is a huge vault area made into a museum of sparkly things, taking away dark corners I could sneak into, jumping out to scare the living crap out of Allison. I felt sad.

For a cathedral, Christ Church is okay. It didn’t have any really cool dead people I cared about. I thought Jonathan Swift was under marble there. I went from tomb to tomb, knocking. He never answered.

The floor was lovely and the vaulted ceiling majestic. The stained glass was pretty. The outside’s better.

Inside the choir was practicing. Prickles on the back of the neck.

We had tickets to the Dublin Literary Festival. Sebastian Barry, Anne Enright and Hugo Hamilton discussing “translating Irish literature.” Allison was so thrilled she could barely keep her eyes open.

I had the idea the event was in Dublin Castle, probably because I read somewhere that it was in Dublin Castle. We wasted time searching nooks and crannies, ma stopping to take photos.


I pulled out the tickets and read them. Magical fairy dust transported us to the venue.

Allison calls Sebastian Barry “your boyfriend,” which I would like to clarify is TOTALLY INAPPROPRIATE. I’ve become branded “she who doth protest too much” and am TRAUMATIZED. No one cares.

Where is my redemption? Lost. Dead. Good night.

We settled far enough back not to be seen. The lights went down. The strip of lights directly above us shone on. Great.

It was mostly Hugo Hamilton, brought up by Anne Enright, with a dash of Sebastian Barry. Irish literature has nuances difficult to translate into foreign languages or American English. Now you don’t have to google it.

Ma fell asleep on my shoulder. I nudged her that we can just go.

“Aren’t you staying to talk to your boyfriend?”

I wasn’t smelling fresh and my hair. Dear god, my hair.

We slept like the dead under marble.