Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ireland Revisited: Back to Brú na Bóinne

Day 28 of 35: Tuesday, August 31, 2010

We set out nice and early (but not uncivilizedly so) from the airport hotel to re-visit our friends the cows along the banks of the River Boyne. As long as we were there, we decided to nose around a part of the area’s megalithic wonders that we hadn’t seen four years ago.

OPW shuttle bus at the Brú na Bóinne site. Despite its destination sign, it's at the staging area for Knowth.

Cows at the Boyne, burial mounds at Knowth.

In 2006 we toured the largest of the 5,000-year-old passage tombs, Newgrange. This time, we took the blue OPW shuttle bus from the Visitors' Centre to the more distant Knowth cluster of mounds, including the largest and highest one, which you can see a bit of in the top photo on this post.

The passage tombs have been restored to various stages, allowing visitors to see the inner structure of some and the likely working appearance of others. The largest tumulus has two long passages toward chambers near its center (unlike Newgrange, which has one) aligned due east and west (the Newgrange passage is aligned with the winter solstice sunrise point instead). The outer end of the eastern passage can be viewed from a small room near its end, but the passage itself is off-limits to visitors.

Ireland's OPW has provided a path to the top of the largest tumulus, not the first time that a subsequent civilization has constructed things atop the builders' artificial hill. Archaeological evidence shows that it has been used many times over the past 5,000 years by different people as a fortress and even the site of a small village.

At left above, Diane (just to the right of the wood posts, a partial reconstruction of what was probably a ceremonial structure) lends perspective to the size of the large tumulus. The sweeping view from its summit of the Boyne valley is a lovely one; at right we are looking westward along the Boyne.

After our stay at Knowth and the Brú na Bóinne complex, we drove back to Birr along a leisurely route, one designed more for its own sake than for speed. Major highways in Ireland, including the new superhighways, are laid out like spokes radiating from Dublin toward the other relatively large cities on the island. We purposefully worked our way across that plan, traveling an arc across the midlands. Our time in Ireland was dwindling toward its end as August prepared to give way to September, and we were in no rush.

More images of the Knowth complex are available in this slideshow on

Next: September 1, 2010 -- A Midlands Ramble
Previous: August 30, 2010 -- Powerscourt and Howth
Beginning of the series: Prologue, August 2

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ireland Revisited: Powerscourt and Howth

Day 27 of 35: Monday, August 30, 2010

Howth Harbour at dusk.

Another brilliant morning, this one accompanied by the sounds of a small city being disassembled – the tents and other structures of the Irish Game and Country Fair being taken down and away. The complete process would take several days.

While Diane was preparing for our trip to the Powerscourt House and Gardens (and our overnight stay in Dublin), I visited the Demesne’s science museum, primarily to photograph some items concerning the 4th Earl (who gradually had become the focus of much of my archives explorations.) I was specifically looking to take some pictures of a birchbark canoe he had shipped back from Canada on his first trip to North America in 1884:

(Portrait of the Fourth Earl of Rosse courtesy of John C. McConnell, original photographer unknown.)

Three weeks before this day, we were preparing for our first excursion away from Birr, the one to County Antrim that wound up in the hospital at Coleraine and changed the nature of the rest of the stay in Ireland. While packing for that trip, Diane tucked her passport away in her suitcase in one of those nooks and pockets that modern suitcases seem to have a pox of. That action was forgotten, understandably, in all that happened later in the Northern Ireland adventure.

A couple of weeks later, she couldn't locate her passport while sorting through things in her shoulder bag. Having forgotten hiding it away in that odd suitcase pocket, she thought it lost, and we set up an appointment with the US Embassy in Dublin for an emergency replacement. (While the prospect of being stuck in Ireland wasn't entirely displeasing, we did have family and beasties back here in the US that we needed to return to.) Embassy staff were very helpful, as were the people at the Birr Library where we needed access to scanners and the internet. We were set up for an appointment on the morning of Tuesday, August 31st -- the day after this one -- so we made a hotel reservation in Dublin for this night, Monday the 30th.

While packing for the jaunt to Dublin, of course, the passport was found. So we cancelled the Embassy appointment, but kept the hotel reservation and made a 2-day holiday-within-a-holiday of it.

We set out for Powerscourt in the Wicklow Mountains at around noon and were there in only about two hours – the new ease of long-distance auto travel in Ireland continued to impress us. We were initially disappointed that more of the grand house is not open for viewing – and the parts that were (most of the ground floor) are given over to shops – but forgot about that pretty quickly in the overpowering sweep of the gardens and grounds in general.

Clockwise from upper-left: the great house from the terraced gardens, its domes reminding us of the Armagh Observatory three weeks earlier; Triton’s fountain and pond; Sugarloaf from the forest at the demesne’s far reaches; a bee at work in the walled garden (can you find him?)

Many more photos from this beautiful day at the Powerscourt Gardens are available in the day's slide show over on

We stayed the night at the same airport hotel that we have always used (for familiarity and price, not because we’re particularly charmed by it – it’s serviceable and acceptable for a crash pad), planning to get up early tomorrow for a return visit to Brú na Bóinne. We had some time after dinner before the sun set, and decided to see if Howth harbour is as charming in 2010 in the evening as it was in 2006 at midday.

Oh, my.

Many more images are available in this slideshow on

Next: August 31, 2010 -- Back to Brú na Bóinne
Previous: August 29, 2010 -- A Fair Day, Too
Beginning of the series: Prologue, August 2

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ireland Revisited: A Fair Day, Too

Day 26 of 35: Sunday, August 29, 2010

I attended a Sunday church service for the first time in decades today, at Lord Rosse’s invitation. During the organ recital a week ago, he had pointed out the memorial plaques on St. Brendan’s inner walls, many of whom are for Parsons family members, especially the Earls. He made special note of a very large one for the Third Earl (the “telescope Earl”), high up behind the balcony, seeming to look down on the congregation, the pulpit, and the altar. I hadn’t brought my camera then, thinking it would be out of place and somewhat disrespectful at a small music recital in a church, but Lord Rosse encouraged me to come back with it to the following Sunday’s service. So I did, but kept it hidden under my hat on the pew beside me during the service itself.

Right, above: the third Earl’s memorial plaque. The last sentence is, “He was renowned in the loftiest range of science, and he revealed to mankind by the unrivalled creation of his genius a wider vision of the glory of God.” The memorial is about five feet tall. Left, above: outside the church is a recent sign which commemorates the world’s first automobile fatality, which took place in the road at the place where I was standing to take the photo. It occurred in 1869, two years after the third Earl died, under the iron wheels of a steam-powered vehicle of his design. The victim was one of his cousins, Mary Ward, herself a noted scientist, a pioneer in microscopy. More about Mary Ward and about this accident can be found in the second part of this earlier post on SherWords.

This afternoon Diane and I thoroughly enjoyed the last hours of the Irish Game and Country Fair, including:

... a display of carriage driving by the Birr Equestrian Centre...

... and another fascinating round of falconry.

Two little creatures particularly delighted us, a champion terrier and a small African vulture.

The next-to-last event at the Fair’s main arena was the “Final of the Five Nations Working Terrier Championships,” in which the year’s winners from previous fairs in Ireland, Northern Ireland (which was described by the M. C. as “technically another country”), Scotland, Wales, and England were squared off against one another for the year’s final round of judging. The winner was this little black guy from England:

During the entire awards ceremony, he was absolutely fixated on the second-place trophy, a stuffed fox head, and would pay attention to nothing else.

The African vulture, the opening act of the falconer's final show, was just about as cute as a buzzard could possibly be, and "cute as a buzzard" are four words I never thought I'd string together.

He responded to the sound of the falconer’s voice like a well-trained dog might, he worked the crowd at the fence (which he’s doing in this picture) masterfully, and his bouncing, rolling, lurching ground gait was hysterical. While only about the height and weight of one of our chickens, his wingspan was impressive:

Afternoon fades on the fair's last day.

Many more images from the two-day event (including links for further information on some of the activities) are available in this slideshow on

Next: August 30, 2010 -- Powerscourt and Howth
Previous: August 28, 2010 -- A Fair Day
Beginning of the series: Prologue, August 2

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ireland Revisited: A Fair Day

Day 25 of 35: Saturday, August 28, 2010

This day was the first of two in the Demesne devoted to the Irish Game and Country Fair, now an annual event at Birr Castle. (Birr was not yet a stop on the Great Game Fairs circuit when we last visited in 2006.) It turned out to be very enjoyable -- and a very big deal. Newspaper accounts in the following week pegged the two days' total attendance at about 35,000 people.

Since the Bothy is inside the Demesne's walls, we could watch the literally last-minute preparations and the opening of the gates (please click on any image to see it in a larger format):

Above right is the scene at the gate nearest us (there were two others, one by the Croghan Lodge at the far end of the public park part of the Demesne from the castle, and one far back in the farming area where the shooting events were held.) The arrivals were a trickle at first, but by mid-afternoon, the place was awash with people.

Things we saw during the day (in addition to many, many vendors of food and wares) included:

A demonstration of western riding techniques and clay pigeon shooting...

... terrier racing (a hoot!) and...

... lurcher racing...

... falconry, and a horse and hound display by the local Ormond Foxhounds hunt club. While the hawk pictured above was content with short flights from the falconer and his bait, his kite seemed to enjoy the afternoon as much as any human, staying aloft and circling the main arena for well over an hour with only occasional stops in nearby treetops.

Lord and Lady Rosse made a grand entrance around midday:

Lady Rosse told me the next morning at church that their carriage ride had come as a surprise ("I wasn't dressed for that at all!") The coach and pair are owned by the couple at the reins, and they rent out for weddings and such. They had volunteered their services for a similar entrance at last year's Fair, but weren't expected to do so this year.

I'm glad they did.

Many more images from the two-day event (including links for further information on some of the activities) will be linked at the end of tomorrow's post.

Next: August 29, 2010 -- A Fair Day, Too
Previous: August 27, 2010 -- Before the Fair
Beginning of the series: Prologue, August 2

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ireland Revisited: Before the Fair

Day 24 of 35: Friday, August 27, 2010

This day was one of several on this trip which felt a little like we imagine most days would be if we actually lived in Birr. For me, that entailed a little work (research in the archives, writing, and continuing the bench panoramas photography project), some errands, and a lot of slacking off. Missing, of course, were family and animals, and those are not minor things.

My time in the Archives on this morning was spent trying to get a little more of a feel for what the 4th Earl of Rosse was like as a person. I came across accounts of an incident early in his earldom, in 1868, when he and his brothers were arrested by a couple of drunken policemen. The incident’s last reference in the archives was a letter to the 4th Earl by the head of Ireland’s constabulary, which included this bit of highly-accomplished groveling:

A fuller account of this episode is included in this earlier SherWords entry.

The day was brilliant with plentiful sun and dramatic clouds. Diane and I spent most of midday shopping downtown.

The above corner of Emmet Square, looking almost due north, includes the brick post office building and, to its left, grey buildings that contain offices of the Enrights’ enterprises and Enright’s Bar (the short building immediately to the left of the P.O.) Birr’s most famous current musician, Mundy (Edmund Enright) occasionally still helps out there, pulling perfect (it’s said) pints of Guinness for customers.

In the late afternoon and evening we strolled around the Demesne, watching final preparations for the weekend’s Irish Game and Country Fair. While doing so, we stumbled on a part of the Demesne we had never seen before, the “Secret Winter Garden” and its thatched-roof gazebo.

Vendors' tents being prepared for the 2010 Irish Game and Country Fair. The structure in the background at right is part of the support structure for the great telescope.

Secret Winter Garden, Birr Castle Demesne.

At the end of the day we strolled past our old friend’s hangout. She was there and, after a short conversation, followed us back to the Bothy for a snack. She is still very, very wary, stopping every few yards to look all around nervously – but I don’t think she needs to worry about the obnoxious Bichon any more. We hadn’t seen it running loose since we mentioned it to Lord Rosse a week earlier.

More images from this day can be seen in this slideshow over on

Next: August 28, 2010 -- A Fair Day
Previous: August 26, 2010 -- Brian Boru's Revenge
Beginning of the series: Prologue, August 2

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ireland Revisited: Brian Boru's Revenge

Day 23 of 35: Thursday, August 26, 2010

At the end of our long, busy day on Wednesday, we treated ourselves to dinner at one of Killarney’s supposedly better restaurants – and Diane’s lobster and my rack of lamb were delicious. Something in my meal obviously hated me, though, because I woke up at about three on Thursday morning with a very aggressive case of the disgustings – maybe we can call it Brian Boru’s Revenge. Luckily, my system seemed to have emptied itself of offending rich dinner by checkout time, and we could undertake the three-hour drive back to Birr, even though I was otherwise still feeling pretty much awful. On arrival back at the Bothy, I crashed on the bed and slept for 16 hours.

Diane evidently felt fine and, bless her soul, didn't smirk at me even once, so far as I could tell.

The only photo taken on Thursday, August 26th.


Next: August 27, 2010 -- Before the Fair
Previous: August 25, 2010 -- Killarney
Beginning of the series: Prologue, August 2

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ireland Revisited: Killarney

Day 22 of 35: Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Jaunting car path, Killarney National Park.

This day we spent altogether in the Muckross House and Gardens area of Killarney National Park doing things that tourists do in Killarney. We found what we expected: those things have become typical "tourist things" because they are delightful, and because the people of Killarney have honed their craft of tourism for two centuries very well.

First, we took a horse and trap ("jaunting car") ride around the grounds and gardens of the grand house, getting a feel for the place to help us decide what to do with the bulk of the day.

There are horse carts all over Killarney, acting as taxis of a sort for tourists. At the advice of our hotel desk clerk, we drove our horseless carriage to a gathering area across the road from an entrance to the Muckross House and Gardens to hire a ride around the grounds. Our driver’s name Arlen; the horse was Pearl. We were very lucky, it turned out, with our random draw.

Arlen appeared to be the oldest of the many drivers on the grounds that day (and old Pearl, at 17, was probably the oldest horse.) Arlen proved to be able to “read” his clients very quickly, and drove us much more slowly than any of the others, who seemed as intent on making the ride itself exciting for their riders. Arlen stopped and dwelled often on details along the way: subtle clues in the terrain that showed where water might be welled easily, explaining why the ancient abbey was built where it was, for example, and botanical oddities. Much of what he told us might actually have been true. This is exactly the kind of thing that Diane and I love to hear and see, of course, and Arlen picked up on that almost immediately. He was also the only driver we saw who stopped along the way to take photos like the one at above-right. (He handled the bulky Nikon very well.)

A faster car.

Our horsedrawn wander around the grounds took, I estimate, twice as long as others on the same circuit – we were always being passed by faster carts – and that, it turns out, probably cost Arlen money. The Irish government regulates the horse-and-trap operators very stringently on all things from care of the animals to prices they can charge for certain services (like our tour of the grounds.) Since our price was based on the trip itself, not on how much time it took, it’s easy to see why the other drivers were considerably faster. At the end of our ride we included a substantial tip in payment, but maybe not enough (thinking about it later) to compensate for Arlen’s potential reduction in day’s income by catering so well to our preferences.

Incipient streaky rashers.

After our amble around the grounds, we walked around the Muckross Traditional Farms area, where working examples of “traditional” (i.e. up to the advent of electricity and internal combustion farm machinery in about 1925 or so) Irish farming are kept going by the Office of Public Works (OPW).

The buildings and equipment reminded us a bit of the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York, but the fact that these were working farms added a great deal – especially (for us, anyway) animals of all sorts from barn cats through draft horses. (Diane made lots of four-footed friends, including a young Irish Wolfhound.)

We finished our tourists’ day with a tour of Muckross House itself (during which no photography is allowed). We felt a happy connection to the grand old mansion because of something we first learned from Arlen that morning and which was mentioned repeatedly during the tour itself: the last people to live in the house were Maud and Arthur Vincent, daughter and son-in-law of William Bowers-Bourne. Bowers-Bourne was the California mining tycoon who built the Filoli estate in Woodside, California, whose house and grounds we have visited often over the years. He purchased the financially-distressed Muckross estate the second decade of the 20th century for his daughter and her Irish husband as a wedding gift.

Muckross House from its public side, and...

... from the servants' side.

The ultimate cause of the financial distress of the original owners was none other than Queen Victoria, whose two-night visit here in 1861 required six years of remodeling and renovation which proved more expensive than the family could recover from. Such remodeling is typical preparation for a visit by the royal family – even our hosts, Lord and Lady Rosse, had to do some heavy-duty renovations to Birr Castle when Princess Margaret visited in 1960 with her husband – and her husband was Lord Snowdon, Lord Rosse’s older half-brother, who had grown up in the place.

More images from this day can be seen in this slideshow over on

Next: August 26, 2010 -- Brian Boru's Revenge
Previous: August 24, 2010 -- The Beara Peninsula
Beginning of the series: Prologue, August 2

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ireland Revisited: The Beara Peninsula

Day 21 of 35: Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Uragh stone circle, Beara Peninsula.

As we had long planned, today we visited the Beara Peninsula, the lesser-known peninsula to the South of the famous “Ring of Kerry” around the Iveragh. Possibly because its land is divided between two Counties, tourist-conscious Kerry and less-so Cork, it has never been developed for tourism much at all, and certainly not to the degree that its famous neighbor to the north has been for almost two centuries now.

Driving on the Beara can be a bit of a challenge, but the reward is well worth the effort.

Two sides of Kenmare. The town of Kenmare sits at the junction of the Iveragh and Beara Peninsulas. At left is a view off the N21 on our approach to Kenmare; at right is a view back toward the Iveragh and the Ring of Kerry at the beginning of our exploration of the Beara.

Ring-to-Ring panorama: view north from the relatively undeveloped “Ring of Beara” toward the famous “Ring of Kerry” in the distance.


A jaw-dropping realization for us was the absolutely stunning beauty of Gleninchaquin, a glacially-carved valley that echoes that of the Lakes of Killarney in all ways except for population. At its upper end is a privately-run park which comprises dramatic waterfalls, working farm areas, lakes, gardens, and miles and miles of hiking trails. The proprietor, Donal Corkery, noting Diane’s hobbled condition, offered us a ride in his vehicle…

… to what he called “the finest view in Ireland”:

If you spend some time with the high resolution version of this panorama linked in this day's slideshow over on, you might be hard-pressed to disagree with him. (That’s Mr. Corkery at right, inspecting his domain with binoculars.)

Also in Gleninchaquin, outside of the private park between a couple of lakes in the chain, is the most strikingly-placed Neolithic stone circle I have ever seen, one brought to my attention by Irish photographer Tony Mulraney on Flickr. Called the Uragh Stone Circle, it is on the crest of a small hill in the middle of the valley with a beautiful backdrop no matter what direction one views it from.

The Uragh stone circle is relatively small, at least physically: Diane, leaning against the tallest stone, gives you a sense of scale.

Views along the main – and only – road into Gleninchaquin. This one-lane track extends southward for about ten kilometers from its modestly-signed intersection with R571 on the north side of the Beara Peninsula.

The most dramatic episode we had on the road up Gleninchaquin we don’t have any pictures of: a heart-stopping encounter with a double-trailer truck hauling a load of pine logs out of the valley. That took a bit of squeezing, backing, and praying to resolve. (A large patch of mature pine re-forestation – which Lord Rosse, a UN expert on reforestation in third-world countries, called a “horrible mistake” all over Ireland because of the nature of the wood and the way it was being planted – is being removed from Gleninchaquin, to be replaced with plantings of native species such as oak.)

The south side of the Beara Peninsula provides spectacular views and picturesque towns along the north side of Bantry Bay:

We drove back to Kenmare via Glengariff and the road over the Caha Pass (with three tunnels along the rugged mountain road), and stopped there to do some gift-shopping before heading back to our hotel in Killarney.

Left: Glengariff. “Harrington” is a name we saw in several places on the Beara Peninsula. "Murphy" was my mother's maiden name, so the white pub sign (which you can read if you click on the image to see it larger) in Glengariff tickled me. Right: Kenmare shops.

Left: “The White Room” lace shop in Kenmare. Right: inside “Soundz of Music,” a great little music shop with a wide variety of high-quality musical instruments (seriously). Yes, those are flying-V and solid-body electric ukuleles hanging among the more traditional ones.

More images from this day, including a links to very large-scale, detailed panoramas, are available here.

Next: August 25, 2010 -- Killarney
Previous: August 23, 2010 -- To Kerry
Beginning of the series: Prologue, August 2