A visit to the (Irish) White House

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.

This is actually the rear facade, now used as the main entry


It is home to Michael D. Higgins, the current (9th) President of Ireland, who was elected last year. Unlike POTUS, the presidency in Ireland is largely a ceremonial role. (Ireland has a prime minister, or Taoiseach.)

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 harp is the national symbol of Ireland and it is featured throughout the house, even on the tea cups.


This garden is also harp-shaped


Portraits of the past Irish presidents line this state room


Divisive politician Eamon de Valera, and a portrait of Lady Lavery, an American who married artist Sir John Lavery. Her likeness (painted by her husband) appeared on Irish banknotes during the 20th century before the Euro


The American Women’s Club of Dublin

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…

Halloween in Dublin

We went with a few of their buddies from creche. I have no idea why I didn’t emphasize the candy part of Halloween sooner. After the first house, G’s eyes were wide with excitement as if he couldn’t believe his luck. “Let’s go to the next house!” he said, after every house.

This is another friend. The three of them would shuffle to a door and knock one at a time in a back-of-the-wrist, barely audible knock, then they would step far back from the threshold, apparently in case they encountered something other than a candy-offering stranger. A few households invited us all the way in, in the tradition that the children would do a song or dance for their treat. The moms ended up performing on behalf of their children. All we could come up with was the theme song to “Bob the Builder.”

Daytripping to Powerscourt

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.

The Powerscourt Estate is situated on a hill looking out at two distinctive Wicklow Mountain peaks, Little Sugarloaf and Great Sugarloaf

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.

View from Triton Lake of the back of the house. You can see the winged horses at the top of the lake

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!

The walled garden

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. 

Touching epitaphs at the pet cemetery

It was so moving to see such loving tributes to animals who meant so much to their owners.

We went on a Friday morning in mid-October, and it was fairly quiet. We glimpsed these beautiful horses through the trees on one of the paths. Seems like one of them had a foal (resting under what I assume is his mama in the left)

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.

Pepperpot tower on the estate grounds with the peak of Great Sugarloaf in the distance.

 

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.

This is Ireland. Driving in Wicklow.

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.

It’s a long way to Tipperary

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 village of Killaloe

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).

Top picture is a plaque on the bridge looking toward Lough Derg that commemorates four men shot by Auxiliaries in 1920. The middle picture shows Killaloe Bridge, with some of the original arches from over three hundred years ago.

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.

A rare picture of the four of us!

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. Some islands in Lough Derg are visible in the background

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.

Nancy and some other women planted many of the flowers in the foreground of the first photo. Michael helped restore the ironwork on the church ruins.

This is the grave of Michael’s grandfather, who was my mother’s grand uncle

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.

Michael, my mom, Nancy, and Nellie

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.

The boys were mad for the tractors. Millie the dog was mad for them

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?”

Michael and Nancy recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. I love the confetti on his shoulder

Nancy told me she would have done things differently if she could go back.

Like what? I asked.

I would have traveled, she said.

A quick hello from Rosslare (playing with our new camera)

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.)

toddler on the beach

Moving target

We’re having a big “Cars” moment in the house

Ice cream moustache

There’s a playground right on the beach

The most haunted house in Ireland

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!