A bit of our Irish life featured on my friend Jacque’s blog:
A bit of our Irish life featured on my friend Jacque’s blog:
On this final day of the presidential race in the United States, I thought you might like to see a few iPhone pictures from Ireland’s White House, Áras an Uachtaráin.
The house is in Phoenix Park, (the largest park in Europe), which is also home to the zoo and the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence.
The website says they do free public tours on Saturdays. We were supposed to meet the First Lady, but alas, last minute schedule changes and all…
For all the house guests we’ve had in our year abroad, it’s hard to believe I’ve only just recently gone to Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow. It was such an easy drive (or easy bus ride, if we have more than one adult traveling with us) from south Dublin. Definitely easier than bringing a pregnant friend to Howth and trying to hike in icy lashes of wind and rain along slippery trails. (That was in May.) So Emily, who loves gardens, this is for you.
We had the great fortune of a spectacular fall day, one where Ireland was out from under its frequent gray shroud. In the warm full sun (no wind reaching down into our bones), the shimmering greens and autumn tones of changing leaves were unbelievably beautiful.
Powerscourt was the site of a castle built around 1300, and by around 1600, the Wingfield family was given the property as part of Sir Richard Wingfield’s appointment as “Marshall of Ireland.” The Wingfield family hired Richard Cassels to construct a Palladian-style mansion around the original structure in 1731. Descendants of the family lived in the estate through the 1950s, although it was mostly a summer home. There was no central heating in the mansion for much of the house’s life, and anyone who visited us this past shivering “spring” would appreciate one family member’s recollection that:
…the old Celtic idea of hell was somewhere intensely cold. Powerscourt in winter would have qualified.
(This grand house was hotter than hell at least on one night, though, when in 1974, the eve of its public opening, a fire gutted the entire thing.)
The original gardens were laid out in the 1740s by Daniel Robinson. An aside in my Lonely Planet guide explains that Robinson supervised the construction laying down in a wheelbarrow with his bottle of sherry, in increasing states of inebriation. Sláinte, Mr. Robinson. The grounds are magnificent in spite of, or perhaps because of, your intoxication!
We strolled for over an hour through the Italian gardens down to Triton Lake, the Japanese garden and through the hollows of the grotto, where it was noticeably colder. On one of the mossy stone archways, I zoomed in with the camera to find a dangling icicle!
On a soft slope in the gardens, there is a pet cemetery my in-laws had mentioned to me, since they know I am insanely in love with my cat.
It was so moving to see such loving tributes to animals who meant so much to their owners.
The toddling, stroller/buggy crowd would have a tough time negotiating some of the non-paved footpaths and fully exploring the grounds, like climbing to the top of Pepperpot Tower.
A better bet for kids is the nearby Powerscourt Waterfall (the largest in Britain and Ireland), which is technically part of the estate but is not accessed through the main gates of the manor house drive.
On the grounds there, you’ll find a playground, picnic areas, and a sand pit with a short nature walk to the thundering fall. (“It’s very loud,” G said, as we approached the almost 400-foot sheet of water.) The moss and lichen-covered rocks were slick, but the boys loved scrambling over them and observing the shallow pools of water in the gaps.
All in all, this was one of my favorite daytrips from Dublin. Definitely worth visiting.
PS: Any more skilled bloggers have tips for reducing image file sizes without compromising quality? These images are exported as “medium” from iPhoto because the original file sizes are much too large and would slow down loading, but I notice quite a decline in the image sharpness.
His mother never made it to the cow-flecked hills, majestic cliffs, friendly pubs and potato-rich meals of her Irish roots. But, finally, he did.
My mother left yesterday, and again I am reminded why living abroad for all its excitement is hard. I am not sure when I will see her next. We had such a whirlwind visit of road trips and I wanted to write this post before autumn gets swallowed up by the holidays and it is the end of the year.
We have officially entered what I call “the drift:” the original term of Sascha’s contract is up, and yet we are still in Ireland for various reasons, mostly summed up as it is much easier to stay put until work forces the next relocation. Not that it’s a complaint. When I’m healthy, I love Ireland. It is an absolutely beautiful place to live and I know we are so lucky. It is complicated to be without a plan, but we have so many opportunities we might never have otherwise.
One of those opportunities was the chance to meet my late grandmother’s first cousin and family, who live about 2 hours from Dublin. So two weeks ago, when Sascha was in NYC and my mother was here, we packed up the Micra and strapped in the boys and hit the road to meet our Irish relatives.
I don’t know if we would have gone to the Killaloe/Ballina area were it not for the family, but I am so glad we did. The area is rich in history, with Killaloe being the birth place of Brian Boru, the last high king. Killaloe and Ballina are villages opposite each other on the River Shannon, which forms a watery border between the counties of Tipperary and Clare. They are connected by a stone bridge, which is over 300 years old. I mostly have iPhone snaps, so the quality isn’t amazing compared to our new camera, but at least you have some idea.
The bridge is too narrow to allow two-way traffic so a light at either end regulates the flow. The river here is wider than the Liffey and it empties into Lough Derg, the biggest lake in the Republic of Ireland. Rimming the lake are the Slieve Bernagh Mountains (Co. Clare) and the Arra Mountains (Co. Tipperary).
We passed under the bridge on the boat tour. It being off-season, we were the only people on board, so James let the boys (and me) drive the boat. G really grabbed the wheel and enthusiastically turned it back and forth, so the boat fishtailed a bit. I actually got a bit nervous that while the captain took our photo G would run us aground.
We met Michael, his sister Nellie, and his wife, Nancy, at our hotel on our first night and then we made a plan to visit them at the farm the following day. My mother had not seen Michael and Nancy since the 70s, when they visited the U.S. before I was born. She remembers having them over for a barbecue but they didn’t want to eat corn on the cob. They called it “horse food.”
Apparently, after I went back to the room to put the boys to bed, my mom got excited about the potential for a secret smoke. Michael invited her out for a smoke, but she was disappointed to discover it was a pipe, not cigarettes. “Well, I’d've given you a pull or two,” he said.
Because the farm is not on the GPS, we were to meet Michael at a place called “The Lookout.” Around this vast lake, you might imagine there are many lookouts, and we spent some time driving on the wrong side of the lake before I figured it out. We did enjoy the unplanned tour of the Clare County side of Lough Derg and were grateful for Michael’s patience.
Michael took us down to the graveyard where his grandfather and father are buried. Over the years, it had been neglected and he and some other volunteers did a lot of work to restore the grounds and they even won awards for it. It is a beautiful and peaceful place, resting at the bottom of a graceful green slope to the shores of the lake.
After walking the wet grounds of the graveyard, everyone’s feet were soaked. At the house they had a fire going in the sitting room and we were happy to take our shoes off. Out in the country, Nancy says, it seems like things never really dry.
The house they live in is a new house built around the original two-room home where seven children were raised, including my great grandmother. Michael’s son now runs the thriving dairy farm.
I really enjoyed spending time with them.
“Oh to be young again,” Nancy said to me when I looked at her wedding photos. “Some years really make all the difference, don’t they?”
Nancy told me she would have done things differently if she could go back.
Like what? I asked.
I would have traveled, she said.
The last few days of my mom’s visit we’re spending down in Wexford County at Kelly’s. It was beautiful this morning on the beach.
It’s hard to believe we are now into our second year in Ireland. The boys have grown so much. I wish I had done a better job of maintaining the blog for them.
Hope you are all well and I hope to catch you up on these very busy weeks in which I visited the Irish President’s House, met my very distant Irish relatives, and went to Powerscourt. No tonsillitis since August (all fingers crossed.)
While we were driving for the boys’ nap the other day, en route to Hook Lighthouse, this spooky house arose from the flats of Hook Peninsula. We veered off course to check it out. (The goth teen in me lives on.)
This is Loftus Hall, which sits on a lonely finger of land poking into the sea. The wind rushes in from the water (not much in the way of cliffs here to buffer) and whispers through the surrounding grass fields. Eerie!