Ireland

George and I took a beautiful trip this August, to my mother’s homeland of Ireland.

We flew into Dublin and stayed a few days at the Brooks Hotel in the Temple Bar neighborhood. It was a great place to stay, with so many sights within walking distance.

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We heard a beautiful choral evensong at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. ▲

And we were quite surprised to learn how long St. Patrick’s had been teaching choirboys to sing! ▼

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We walked the streets exploring . . .  ▼

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Visited Trinity College, which was founded in 1592, and where we saw the gorgeous Biblical illuminations of monks from the 9th century Book of Kells.  ▼

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– strolled by Dublin Castle –  ▲

and saw serenely beautiful carvings from the Middle Ages in the Museum of Dublin. ▼

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And of course we took in the festive night life of Temple Bar, visiting pubs along the way! ▼

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When we left Dublin we drove – well actually George drove, on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, which he did splendidly – to Powerscourt, a 17th c. estate in County Wicklow with acres and acres of gardens and beautiful statuary.  ▼

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From there we went to Glendalough to see the monastery site of St. Kevin, a 6th century Irish monk and saint.  Most of the buildings that survive today date from the 10th through 12th centuries.

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You approach St. Kevin’s along a lovely stream ▲ and then come upon these ancient monastery ruins,  a holy site for more than a millennium.  ▼ireland_glendalough4ireland_glendalough5ireland_glendaloug6ireland_glendaloug7

The site’s sacred history led many from the area to request burial on the grounds of St. Kevin’s throughout the centuries.

 

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From there we drove to quaint Kilkenny, which had been a walled city starting in the 12th century. Our first morning there we took a walk from our guest house and noticed this demarcation looking down on the sidewalk –

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showing where the wall had been. (Most signage in Ireland is in both English and Irish, what we would call Gaelic, helping to preserve the ancient language.) As we walked a bit further we saw an immense swath of stone – part of the original city wall that has been saved – complete with arrow slits! ▼

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We visited another St. Patrick’s Church for a morning Mass, with beautiful architecture▼

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And but a few blocks away was stately St. Mary’s Basilica –

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– with its gorgeous interior and breathtaking statue of Mary.▼

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We strolled down the street and a round a corner –

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to the Black Friars’ Abbey ▼ireland_kilkenny12

with its gorgeous stained glass windows.ireland_kilkenny13

Then, back to Butler House where we were staying. When you step out the rear entrance there –

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and stroll across the terrace, you come face to face with –

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Kilkenny Castle! Butler House was built as the “dower house” ( for the widow of the estate owner) for the castle. ▲

We toured the castle, which was built in 1195, and marveled at the beautiful tapestries, sweeping views of ornamental gardens and grand hall of portraits.

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And that evening I took a charming River Walk along the Nore with this Irish boch. ▼

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The next day we drove through the little hamlet of  Kildorrery and had a delightful lunch here ▼

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Later we arrived at the venerable Great Southern Killarney, a handsome hotel at the end of the Great Southern Railroad –

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where the view out our window the next morning was picture perfect:

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We took a bus tour around the beautiful Ring of Kerry, having been advised that the roads were quite narrow and winding. We were also advised that the roads around St. Kevin’s were just as treacherous, but we didn’t know it at the time George drove them! In any case, we were both able to relax and enjoy the lovely scenery this day.

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The Ring of Kerry is part of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, the western coast of the island that that is less developed and more weatherbeaten than the eastern shore, and has a wild and quickly changeable beauty.

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The tour allowed us many scenic stops to take photos, and also took us to a farm for a fun sheepdog demonstration. Sheep in Ireland have no natural predators and so are allowed to wander far afield from their home farm. This shepherd showed us how his trained border collies round up a herd from way up the hill, trotting them down in minutes.  ▼

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The shepherd was a good-natured gent too. When he took questions from our group someone asked, “How many sheep do you own here?” he waited a beat, squinting,  then answered, “Are ye from the tax office?”

In leaving Killarney we toured the scenic Cliffs of Moher, probably the most famous landmark on the Wild Atlantic Way. ▼

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Then we drove on to Galway. The city is known as the hub of music culture for both traditional and modern Irish music. We walked across the Corrib River to see a bit of the National University of Ireland campus. ▼

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In Galway we had a musical experience that was a highlight of our trip. St. Nicholas Church is just off the main thoroughfare where lots of young street buskers play and sing their hearts out (which we enjoyed too), and we noticed at the church a sign saying they featured performances of traditional Irish every night of the summer till August 31 – and that’s the date we saw the sign! So we came back there that evening and heard, amid the stone arches and stained glass, a terrific violinist and guitarist playing the music of their ancestors. We also got to see some hobnail dancing performed by the emcee of the evening! Below are some snippets of videos of these marvelous performers.

 

After a music-filled day in Galway we headed for our last stop before traveling back to Dublin to fly home: my mother’s hometown in County Roscommon.

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In 1930 my mother, then 8, and her younger brother, 6,  left Ireland in the care of a devoted aunt a few years after their mother had died, leaving her father with 5 children on a small farm. Her aunt and uncle here in the US raised my mom and uncle, and when Mom would write to her sister, the address had no street or house number, just towns nearby the farm – Ballaghadereen, Castelrea, Fairymount, French Park Post Office.

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Mom didn’t remember a whole lot much from her childhood here, but she did have the memory of holding her father’s hand to walk down the bóithrín – the little lane – aside the house, to milk the cows. She always told me if I visit Ireland, ask the postmaster at French Park where the Creightons lived, because he’d know where all the families came from.

 

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We drove through miles and miles of serene fields

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with hedgerows and stone fences.

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and peat drying in the sun –

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George found the way to French Park and on the little main street we saw the sign for the post office. The streets are so narrow, the cars were half parked up on the sidewalks, so we did the same, in front of a pub a few doors down from the PO.

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It’s actually half grocery store, half post office; when I went in, an old gent was at the till ringing up customers with bread & milk in their baskets. Rather than interrupt him – he had a bit of a line going since it was a Saturday around 11:30 in the morning – I stepped into the next room, where a woman sat behind a counter. I thought I’d start by asking if she knew the Creighton family, or where Fairymount Cemetery was, where my aunt and uncles are buried. She smiled and said with a brogue, “Oh, I’ve only been here forty years, ye’ll have t’ ask my husband at the register, he’s lived here all his life.”

We went back to the gentleman in the store, and by the time I explained again who we were and why we were there, everyone in the little store had looked up, hearing our American accents! The gent closed the till and walked out into the street to kindly give us directions to the cemetery – “Now. You go up this road and there’s a fork. Stay to the left. There’s a big garage, you can’t miss it . . . ” and after a few more instructions, we thanked him sincerely and intended to get to the cemetery at least. He was a delightful gentleman, and said he has a son in Florida in the military.

But as we walked back to the car, George said you know, just in case we get lost he’d better use a restroom before we start off. So we went into the pub where we parked, and he went to the men’s room while I sat at the bar – there was no one sitting at the tables yet for lunch. But two fellows were having a meal at the bar, so I sat nearby and ordered some tea and scones – from the waitress, whom I’d just seen minutes before picking up some supplies in the grocery store.

It wasn’t long before the two fellows started chatting with us – everyone in Ireland loves to chat with Americans! – and I told them about my mother and her brothers who had stayed in Ireland, John and James Creighton –

“John Creighton?” says one of the men. “My father worked with John Creighton. They worked breaking up stone. I know where he lived.  I know the house, my cousin bought the house. I’ll take you ’round.”

And just like that, John R. became our tour guide for a wonderful afternoon!

John himself is a stonemason who’s built many fine walls and fences in the area – he showed us one we happened to pass –

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he told us to follow him in his van, and that we did, up hill and down dale and before long we slowed down on this little local road

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and pulled in behind a lovely house – the house where my mother lived until she came to the States.

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John took us to the door to meet Bernard and Carmel, who had bought the house many years ago after my aunt and uncles had passed away. The building needed a lot of work then of course but together they have turned it into a beautiful home, raised their family, and I could not be happier that it has been so lovingly cared for. Carmel showed us through the house, explaining where the kitchen and living areas had been, and about a little barn out back that had been so rickety that they had to take it down. Bernard stepped out for a few moments and then returned from his workroom with a slate – a slate he’d saved from the barn when they took it down. He gave it to us, saying now we had a piece of my mother’s house to take home with us. Of all the nice people we met in Ireland, and there were many, none were so kind as John, Carmel and Bernard!

And next to the house still is the little bóithrín.

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John took us to other places we were so pleased to see for the first time – the elementary school my mother attended, still in use (though that day was a Saturday) –

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and a tribute to County Roscommon’s most famous statesman, the first President of Ireland, Douglas Hyde –

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And to the Fairymount Church of the Sacred Heart, my mother’s family church –

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And to the gracious Fairymount Cemetery, that overlooks the quiet beauty of this county.

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We searched for and finally found the gravestone for my mother’s family. While she spelled her name Creighton here in the States, it evidently was spelled Creaton in Ireland – I don’t know how that change occurred.ireland_roscommon16

“In loving memory of

Andrew Creaton

Leitrim

Died 1940

His wife Catherine

Died 1928 (?)

Their Sons

James Died 1986

John Died 1986

Their Daughter Monica

Died 1987.”

My sincerest thanks go to our friend John Regan, for generously giving his afternoon to show us these places so very dear to my heart. And of course to my husband, who learned quickly to drive on the other side of the road and never put a scratch on the car!

The countryside of Ireland is beautiful – but far grander are the kind people of that charming land.

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A little note to my family: if you want to see the house on Google Street View Maps, and even see up and down the road from it, click HERE . 

To see the cartoon I mentioned in my card, click HERE.

–Pat