Authentic Irish Scone Recipe

We’ve lived in Ireland for the better part of a year now, and in these past few months I have come to some conclusions about Irish culture:

1.  “Type-B” personalities run the roost.

2. You must, MUST, support your local hurling/rugby/football team with the undying love of a mother for her only child.

3. Tea and scones are synonymous with life itself.

It is this final conclusion that has brought me to the point I am at now–that is, the point at which I have become obsessed with tea and scones (trust me, my waistline bears the proof). Of course, it didn’t take much convincing to get me to eat fresh-baked bread smothered in cream and jam. And I doubt it will for you, either. So the next time you want a homemade treat or a tasty tea or a light breakfast, just whip up a batch of Irish scones. I have to warn you, though–you just might get hooked!

photo 1 (2)

Irish Scones
Makes 4-6 delectable treats

Ingredients:

2 cups/225 g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tablespoons/55 g butter
2 tsp/1 oz fine sugar (optional)
1 cup/150 ml milk
1 handful raisins (optional)
1 egg beaten with a splash of milk

Preparation:

  • Preheat the oven to 400F/205C/Gas 8
  • Grease and flour a baking sheet
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and use a pastry cutter or two forks to cut it into the flour mixture until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar (if using) and stir.
  • Make a well in the center of the flour and slowly stir in enough milk to make a soft, pliable dough.
  • Add the raisins (if using) and mix them into the dough.
  • Turn the dough onto a well-floured board and knead very lightly until just smooth, then roll out to about 3/4″ (2 cm) thick.
  • Cut rounds with a 3″ cutter or an overturned glass, or cut into triangles using a sharp knife.
  • Place scones on the prepared baking tray and brush with the beaten egg and milk mixture.
  • Bake near the top of the hot oven for 15 minutes, until golden brown.
  • Cool on a wire rack
  • Serve with butter and lashings of jam and cream. Drink a cup of tea. Feel very Irish.

photo 2

 

 

 

Authentic Irish Scone Recipe

We’ve lived in Ireland for the better part of a year now, and in these past few months I have come to some conclusions about Irish culture:

1.  “Type-B” personalities run the roost.

2. You must, MUST, support your local hurling/rugby/football team with the undying love of a mother for her only child.

3. Tea and scones are synonymous with life itself.

It is this final conclusion that has brought me to the point I am at now–that is, the point at which I have become obsessed with tea and scones (trust me, my waistline bears the proof). Of course, it didn’t take much convincing to get me to eat fresh-baked bread smothered in cream and jam. And I doubt it will for you, either. So the next time you want a homemade treat or a tasty tea or a light breakfast, just whip up a batch of Irish scones. I have to warn you, though–you just might get hooked!

photo 1 (2)

Irish Scones
Makes 4-6 delectable treats

Ingredients:

2 cups/225 g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 Tablespoons/55 g butter
2 tsp/1 oz fine sugar (optional)
1 cup/150 ml milk
1 handful raisins (optional)
1 egg beaten with a splash of milk

Preparation:

  • Preheat the oven to 400F/205C/Gas 8
  • Grease and flour a baking sheet
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and use a pastry cutter or two forks to cut it into the flour mixture until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar (if using) and stir.
  • Make a well in the center of the flour and slowly stir in enough milk to make a soft, pliable dough.
  • Add the raisins (if using) and mix them into the dough.
  • Turn the dough onto a well-floured board and knead very lightly until just smooth, then roll out to about 3/4″ (2 cm) thick.
  • Cut rounds with a 3″ cutter or an overturned glass, or cut into triangles using a sharp knife.
  • Place scones on the prepared baking tray and brush with the beaten egg and milk mixture.
  • Bake near the top of the hot oven for 15 minutes, until golden brown.
  • Cool on a wire rack
  • Serve with butter and lashings of jam and cream. Drink a cup of tea. Feel very Irish.

photo 2

Only In Ireland

Ireland is an incredible corner of the globe, a region that I don’t think you’d really understand unless you’ve been here and experienced it first-hand. Better still, live here for awhile like I’m doing. Get to know the people and the place. Because, once you do, you’ll learn that surprises await around every green (and greener) corner. You see, there are some things that are just so…Ireland. Things that constantly make me realize “we’re not in Kansas any more”. Things that would only happen in one place: only in Ireland.

For example:

Only in Ireland…can you be speeding down the highway and have to swerve out of your lane to avoid a tractor puttering along in the fast lane.

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Only in Ireland…can you be a a rowdy pub in the wee hours of the morning and still order tea and scones.

Only in Ireland…can you live within the city limits (of the second largest city in the country, mind you) and have cows roaming the pastures behind your house.

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Only in Ireland…can you tell a friend that you’d like to stay in a castle some time (referring to the numerous castles that have been converted to hotels) and have her reply, “You should just go to my cousin’s house. He has a castle in his back yard.”

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Only in Ireland…can you bring your Border Collie to a dog park and not be able to spot her due to the swarms of other Border Collies running around.

Only in Ireland…is traffic regularly halted on main thoroughfares for horses or livestock in the road.

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Only in Ireland…can you be outside basking in the sun and, two minutes later, have to run for cover because a storm has moved in and you are being pelted with hail stones…and, two minutes later, be back outside basking in the sun again.

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Only in Ireland…can you call the name “Patrick” in a crowded room and have nearly every male in the room come to see what you need.

Only in Ireland…can you be dining in a restaurant and have a mama pig and her six little piglets accidentally wander in from a farm.

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Only in Ireland…is every dish served with potatoes. Pizza delivery? Comes with a side of french fries. Thai food? Comes with mashed potatoes. Baked potato? Comes with a side of french fries and mashed potatoes.

Only in Ireland…will you find cars randomly parked in the middle of the road or the sidewalk (or both simultaneously). Why? Because it’s convenient. For them, at least.

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Only in Ireland…do they say “Taim in na grá leat” instead of “I love you”. Translation: “You will forever be in my heart”.

And, only in Ireland is that phrase so true. For all of your quirkiness and your rural-ness and your untamed beauty, Ireland, you will always and forever be in my heart.

Easter in Ireland

Easter was a bit different for us this year, and not just because we are living thousands of miles away from “home” (I’m using that term loosely now because I am discovering more and more each day that “home” is not a single place). No, this year Easter was different for many reasons: we are living in a different country with different holiday traditions and customs, for the first time we have two children who are old enough to participate in all of the festivities, we are attending a different church, our family who we usually celebrate the day with all live  thousands of miles away. Perhaps the most noticeable difference this year, though, was our disruptive travel schedule–I got home from Phoenix the night before Easter, jet-lagged and delirious, and then Jon hopped on a plane at 7:00 the morning after Easter for a business trip to Seattle. Needless to say, Easter was a bit more hectic than we would have liked it to be, but we all still had a great holiday together.

Since Easter is my favorite holiday I couldn’t help myself from doing all of my usual Easter activities–all done a week early since I was traveling the whole week leading up to Easter. We started by dyeing Easter eggs, an American activity that I was determined to bring to Ireland. Despite having to dye brown eggs instead of white ones (because all eggs in Ireland are brown), the eggs turned out pretty. I called them my hippie eggs because they were all so earthy-colored and organic-looking.

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We also got crafty and made fingerprint Easter bunny cards before I left for my trip. Then we delivered the cards to David’s teachers at school, some neighbors, and our state-side family members:

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On Easter morning the boys gifted us with sleep (we weren’t awoken until 7:30…truly an Easter miracle!).Then we went downstairs for breakfast and Easter gifts. I explained to the boys that the gifts they were receiving were a symbol of the perfect gift that Jesus gave us on Easter–dying on the cross for our sins so that when we love and believe in him we can have new life forever with Him! They were both overjoyed to see a basket brimming with exciting little gifts: Woody and Buzz Lightyear toys (which I had ordered off Amazon, had shipped to my parents’ house in Seattle, which they then brought to me in Phoenix, which I carried back on the plane with me to Ireland), golf balls (from the golf course near my grandparents’ house in Phoenix), Toy Story fruit snacks, Dora the Explorer action figures and little race cars (thanks, Nana!), bubbles, and an assortment of recently-imported American candy. To be honest, I don’t know who was more excited about all of the goodies, the boys or their parents!

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After rifling through the gift basket it was time for breakfast. I was quite proud of myself for being such a good planner on this particular occasion–I actually baked homemade cinnamon rolls in Febuary and froze a batch for us to eat on Easter morning. All I had to do was pop the cinnamon rolls out to thaw overnight and heat them up in the morning. Atta girl, Allison.

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After breakfast I got the boys dressed while Daddy hid eggs for our Easter egg hunt (another American tradition, but one that I can’t live without!). Since we had already made and eaten our hard-boiled eggs the week before I left for Phoenix, we just hid plastic eggs in our back yard. David was a pro at finding all of the eggs, even though Daddy tried to fool him by camouflaging the “ball” eggs in their appropriate stations (the soccer balls were in the goal, the basketballs were in the hoop, the baseballs were on the t-ball).

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Jacob had fun finding the eggs, but as soon as he would find one he stopped everything, opened the egg, and shoved the entire contents into his mouth. As a result, he spent most of the egg hunt waddling around like a chipmunk on his way to the nut nest on the last day before winter.

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After all (or, at least, most) of the eggs had been found we went inside so the boys could admire their bounty:

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After all of the morning’s excitement it was time to clean up and go to church. As we were driving to church we were struck by the streams of people pouring into every church and cathedral we passed. In America we were used to seeing more people than usual in church on Easter, but nothing like this! It was almost like a parade of people walking to church on Easter morning. We had a lovely service at our church, Calvary Cork, and snapped a quick family photo before the boys dove into the cake table after the service:

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It was a beautiful morning, so on our way out from church we decided to walk along the River Lee before returning home:

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Jacob had a great time running up and down the sidewalks chasing his big brother:

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We spent the afternoon napping, unpacking (my things), doing laundry, re-packing (Jon’s things), and playing outside in the sunshine. Here’s Jacob, our caddy-in-training, posing with his golf club:

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We ended our day with a perfect Easter dinner: roast lamb, mashed potatoes, asparagus, crescent rolls, and Irish mead for Mommy and Daddy to drink (again, quite proud of myself for pulling this off. Before I left for Phoenix I ordered groceries to be delivered the day before Easter so we would have all of the fixin’s ready upon my arrival):

 

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Despite the craziness of this year, we managed to have a fun and memorable Easter together as a family. And, I have to say, it was so good to be home–home with my family, home with my loves, home in the home that isn’t even a place. From my family to yours, happy Easter!

Limerick: “Angela’s Ashes” Walking Tour and King John’s Castle

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Several years ago I read a book that touched my heart: Angela’s Ashes. It is the childhood memoir of Frank McCourt, an American-born son of two Irish imigrants who returned to Ireland with his family when he was a young boy. His story is one of extreme poverty, neglect, sickness, death, constant struggle…and hope. It’s an incredible story that is told through the innocent and witty eyes of a boy who overcame all odds (McCourt went on to be a respected teacher in New York City and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author). The story is set in Limerick, Ireland where McCourt grew up. When we moved to Ireland I kept thinking back to anecdotes and references from Angela’s Ashes and I kept thinking, “I should really read that book again while I’m living here.” So, I did (and, let me tell you, it’s just as good the second time around!). And then I couldn’t stop thinking about Limerick. I wanted to see all of the places from the book–I wanted to experience first hand the city of this story.

As I was reading the book I took notes of locations that held special importance to McCourt: where his homes were, his school, the library where he spent countless hours reading, the pub where he would frequently retrieve his drunken father. Then I entered all of my “places of interest” into Google Maps and made myself a customized Angela’s Ashes walking tour of Limerick:

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Now, there are a couple of official Angela’s Ashes tours led by different people in Limerick, but none of them were running at this time of the year (this time of the year being NOT the busy summer tourist season)–and, besides, our crew with two fussy boys under the age of four just doesn’t do well on guided tours. I did, however, find a great walking tour online that covered a few of the places I was already planning on visiting so I printed that off as well. With all of my maps and little waling guides in hand, it was time to pack up the family and drive up to Limerick.

We got to Limerick at lunch time. There was a cute Farmer’s Market set up on one of the streets downtown:

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But, being the lazy, grease-hungry Americans that we are, we opted to eat at the Burger King across the street.

After lunch we walked a few blocks away to a little park where we could see the Shannon River. It’s a huge river and at low-tide (which it was when we were there) little rapids form at the crests of the river. There was a group of kayakers paddling through the rapids having a grand time. In the distance you can see King John’s castle…more on that later. Now, moving on to the Limerick of Frank McCourt.

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Our walking tour began at the Parnell Street Railway Station. This is the railway station that the McCourt family arrived in when they first came to Limerick (OK, a little back story for those of you who haven’t read the book: Frank’s parents–Malachy and Angela–met in New York City the day that Angela immigrated from Ireland to start a “better life” for herself. Malachy had just gotten out of jail and was on the run for some anonymous crimes related to his involvement in the IRA back home in his native Northern Ireland. So, Malachy and Angela meet, they hit it off, and…9 months later Frank is born. It’s quite the scandal. Malachy and Angela quickly marry and even more quickly start making babies. Within four years they’ve had five children. They have no money, no love for each other, and very little love for their ever-growing brood of children. So much for the “better life”. They do have one saving grace: a baby girl who everyone adores. When she dies in infancy due to the horrid conditions the McCourt family is living in, it’s more than anyone can handle. They decide it’s time to leave New York and start back over in Ireland. Angela’s mom pays for the family to travel to Ireland because the McCourt family doesn’t even have enough money to buy a loaf of bread, let alone six one-way tickets to Ireland. So, they arrive in Northern Ireland where Malachy is from, they get kicked out; they go to Dublin; they get kicked out; they decide their last chance is to go to Limerick where Angela’s family is from. They ride the train all the way from Dublin down to Limerick and they arrive at…the Parnell Street train station. There. All caught up.)

The railway station is a beautiful building and I was fortunate enough to see the inside where trains have passed through for centuries (we had to run in so David could use the potty):

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After arriving at the train station, the McCourt family carried their meager belongings through town to their new home in Limerick. The first place they passed through on this walk was the Peoples’ Park. I’m not sure what little Frankie was feeling when he first saw this park, but we loved it. There was a great playground for the kids (which we enjoyed immensely, but I’m sure it was not there in the 1930’s when the McCourt family arrived) and beautiful flowers everywhere.

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At the edge of the park there is an art center that used to be a library. This is the library that Frank McCourt used to frequent as a boy so he could check out books for his mother and, if he was lucky, be allowed to sit in himself to read books about saints (guess libraries hadn’t caught on to the idea of a children’s section and weekly story times yet).

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Just past the library is St. Michael’s Church where Frank and his friend Billy Campbell (jealously) watched the Protestants play croquet on the church lawn after service on Sunday mornings:

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About a block past the church is South’s Pub–the infamous pub where Malachy McCourt infamously drank away every penny he ever earned (meaning his own family was cold and starving). This is the same pub where Frank’s uncle bought him his first pint at the age of 16 so he could become a “real man”:

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And, to be quite honest, I don’t think I would have minded spending a bit of time inside South’s. It’s a beautiful pub, warm, welcoming–probably a lot nicer place to hang out than the overcrowded, damp, cold, nasty slums where the McCourt family lived:

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And that brings us to the overcrowded, damp, cold, nasty slums where the McCourt family lived. This is Windmill Lane, the location of the McCourt’s first house in Limerick. The tenements where the McCourt family actually lived in the ’30’s have been torn down and replaced with more stable homes. This house was so poorly-built that one of Frank’s brothers, a twin, died here of disease when he was only two years old:

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The family was distraught by little Oliver’s death. They couldn’t stay in that house on Windmill Lane a moment longer, so they moved to a house on Hartstonge Street (again, the old tenement houses have been replaced):

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Unfortunately, little Oliver’s twin, Eugene, was so heartbroken over the death of his twin that he, too perished. The family decided to move again, this time to the top of Barrack Hill on Roden Lane:

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This is where Frank lived for most of his childhood (and, once again, the original houses are long gone). The house on Roden Lane was at the end of the lane near a stable. There was one outhouse that the entire lane used–and it was right next to the McCourt’s house. The stench was unbearable in the summer. In the winter, the bottom floor of their house was constantly flooded and they were forced to move upstairs where it was dry–a place they fondly referred to as “Italy”.

After seeing all of the McCourt houses (well, the general locations, at least) we made one final stop on our Angela’s Ashes tour: Leamy’s National School. This is the school where Frank received his formal education–all six years of it.

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Today the school is home to the Frank McCourt Museum, a wonderful privately-run museum. There are only two rooms in the museum–a classroom and a room set up like the McCourts house on Roden Lane–but they managed to fit a lot of information and memorabilia into the small space. The photos in this collage are: (top left) entrance to the museum, (top right) me and David with Frankie boy, (bottom right) Frank’s classroom (with some extra-cute pupils), (bottom left) school photo with Frank McCourt (he’s sitting in the front row on the right with the dark hair):

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The museum is run by this woman (the one drawing at the easel in the photo):

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Her father-in-law bought Leamy’s school after it became derelict and turned it into a garment shop. Once he retired, the building was sitting empty and she decided to make it into a museum. She drove around the country collecting information and artifacts and set about creating this little gem of a museum. And, speaking of gems, she was a gem herself. She gave my children paly-doh and markers to play with while she showed me and Jon around the museum, then she sat the boys down to draw portraits of them (she’s an artist), then she gave them candy for being such good little museum-goers.  Seriously, one of the best museum-with-children experiences I’ve ever had! I would highly recommend that anybody who finds themselves in Limerick make a quick stop by the Frank McCourt Museum and give this woman a little hello.

 

After a full afternoon of walking around Limerick we had the option of driving home and crashing or…going to a castle! We, of course, went to the castle. Limerick is home to King John’s Castle, a fortress that was commissioned by King John (of Robin Hood lore) in the late 12th century. Last summer the castle was restored and renovated to include some incredible exhibits on the history of the castle and what life was like in Medieval times. There were lots of hands-on activities and interactive displays that kept us all entertained for hours:

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As an added bonus, we were treated to beautiful views of Limerick from the top of the castle walls:

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As we were walking back to the car at the end of the day I asked David what his favorite part of our day had been: The fun playground at the park? The lollipops at the museum? Climbing up castle walls?  Nope, none of that. Do you know what his answer was? Getting rocks stuck in his boots. Yep. There were lots of pebbles at the castle and while he was running around like a wild banshee kicking up all the gravel, some of it got stuck in his boots. It was…awesome. At least for a 3-year old.

On our way out of town we made one last quick stop. Jon’s friend from work heard that we were in Limerick for the day and there just happened to be a Munster rugby match happening RIGHT THERE in Thomond Park, and he had an extra ticket, and could Jon come? Please, please, please could Jonny come out to play? So, as we drove out of Limerick we swung by the stadium to drop Daddy off for his first Irish sporting event (and, if you know my anti-sports-watching husband, you know that this is a big deal). He had a great time, and he even bought himself a Munster rugby hat. Up, Munster!

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As I drove home alone with the boys I was treated to beautiful views of the rolling green hills in the Irish countryside. We ate granola bars and fruit snacks for dinner in our car, and it was perfect. An absolutely, perfectly Irish-y day.

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The Edge of Ireland: Mizen Head and Dromberg Stone Circle

After a very emotional week, I was in desperate need of some quality family time over the weekend.  We spent all day Saturday lounging around home–I don’t think the boys even got out of their pajamas the whole day. It was wonderful. By Sunday we were all ready to go out and do something, so we decided to embark on one of our family fun-ventures. I’ve been wanting to see Mizen Head, the southern-most point in Ireland, for quite some time now. After two failed attempts to go to Mizen Head in the last few months, it was time to give it another go. And, luckily for us, the third time worked like a charm. It was a glorious sunny day and we were surprised by how much we enjoyed our little day trip.

Mizen Head is in southwest County Cork, about a 2 hour drive from our house in Cork City.  On our way out to Mizen Head we made a couple of stops to help break up the drive. Our first stop was Dromberg Stone Circle, an ancient site of ritual and ceremony:

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Nobody knows the exact purpose of these circles (there are several still standing in Ireland), but it is believed that the alignment of the stones has something to do with the alignment of the sun during the winter solstice. Excavations of the Dromberg Stone Circle in the 1950’s uncovered a pottery vessel containing the cremated remains of a youth which were carbon dated to about 1100 B.C. Today, the circle still stands where it has stood for thousands of years: in the middle of a field overlooking the ocean. It’s quite sturdy, as evidenced by the climbability of the stones:

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Just outside of the stone circle there are the remains of two stone huts that were probably part of an ancient village:

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Inside one of the “huts” you can still see what remains of a unique cooking system. There are two pits: a hearth tucked into the back wall and a trough in the middle of the floor. Apparently what would happen is the people would heat stones in the hearth then place them in the trough full of water. The water would become quite hot for several hours and they could cook meat (and even brew beer!) submerged in the hot water. It’s kind of like a Bronze Age sous-vide cooker, if you will:

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After exploring the stone circle we got back in the car and continued up the road. On our way to Mizen Head we pulled off to what we thought was a turnoff at a scenic viewpoint. While the spot was unbelievably “scenic”, there was another little treasure here as well: an altar wedge tomb.

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This ritual tomb was constructed at the end of the Stone Age, between 3,000-2,000 B.C. The entrance to the tomb is deliberately aligned with the Mizen Peninsula and–if I don’t say so myself–has quite a magnificent view. Here are Jon and Jacob standing outside the entrance to the tomb for a little perspective of what the area looks like:

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From here it was only about 25 minutes to the Mizen Head visitor center. When we arrived at the visitor center we took care of business right away: 1. potty  2. lunch. It was such a nice day that we decided to have a picnic outside. There is a great playground at the visitor center and the boys were having so much fun there that we decided to just eat our lunch in the playground instead of sitting at the boring old picnic tables:

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At the playground, David found two little boys who were kindred spirits (as in, they all had boundless energy and enjoyed knocking each other down for fun). He had a grand time playing with his friends until Mom and Dad tore him away from them.

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To get to the end of the Mizen Peninsula, to the “head”–the very end of Ireland, you hike down a beautiful seaside path. The path is paved (thank goodness, because the boys never would have made it if we hadn’t brought the stroller!) and the scenery is breathtaking. Cliffs and crashing waves all around you. Absolutely incredible.

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When you get down to the bottom of the first cliff you have to cross a suspension bridge to get out to the lighthouse that is at the end of the peninsula. Here is the view of the suspension bridge from the top of the cliff:

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And here is the view from the suspension bridge looking down, down, down…it was a long way down. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but we were hundreds of feet in the air here with nothing but cliffs and rocks and water below:

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After we crossed over the bridge we walked down to a viewpoint where you could look back up at the bridge:

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Walking a bit further up the path we came to the hundred-year old lighthouse and keeper’s quarters that are set up like a bit of a museum now. When we walked out of the lighthouse it was the moment we’d all been waiting for: our view of the end of Ireland!

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It was amazing to see that point of rocks jutting out into the water, that southernmost part of this island. For thousands of people leaving Ireland (or Europe, for that matter) this point was their last glimpse of land–explorers, immigrants, and even convicts would have sailed by this very spot and off into the great blue ocean. And, for many who would never return, it was the last piece of Ireland they would ever see. For us, though, it was just another (beautiful) stop on our grand tour of this amazing country:

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After a full afternoon exploring Mizen Head we loaded back into the car. Before heading home, though, we made one last stop at a place called Barleycove Beach. There were huge sand dunes, millions of rabbits and their rabbit holes, seashells and, of course, rocks to throw in the water. A recent storm had washed out the footbridge across the river to the wide oceanfront beaches, but we still had a great time skipping stones on the river and collecting seashells.

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When we felt that the boys were sufficiently worn out we loaded them in the car for the long drive back home. Our ploy worked beautifully and within minutes both boys were snoozing peacefully in the back seat:

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We arrived back in Cork at dinner time and, since neither of us felt like cooking after our long day out, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at our favorite “chipper” (a shop that sells fish and chips and other fried goodness). KC’s is ammmmazing, as evidenced by the mile-long line that winds out the front door and up the street during all business hours. The food is well worth the wait, though–especially if you’ve just had a long day exploring stone circles and wedge tombs and cliffs and beaches.

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I think we will all remember this day for many years to come: the day that we went to the edge of Ireland and back again.

St. Patrick’s Day In Ireland

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On March 17th each year the whole world dresses in green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Never in my life did I think I would actually be in Ireland on this most-Irish of all holidays. Yet, here we find ourselves, and I couldn’t have been more excited. This being our first St. Patrick’s Day in the Emerald Isle, we wanted to make it memorable. And, now that I’m starting to recover from the festivities, I can honestly say that St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland did not disappoint. We had a whole weekend of celebrations, and this will definitely be a St. Patrick’s Day that none of us will ever forget!

Our St. Patrick’s weekend festivities began on Friday. The boys received a care package in the mail from their Gammy and Grandpa Pete in Washington. It was full of goodies–including “leprechaun candy” that they feasted on all weekend:

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On Friday afternoon we had a St. Paddy’s playdate with some of David’s friends. We all went out to lunch at our “local” (the pub in our neighborhood) that was all bedecked in Irish decor. Two of the moms  have recently gone back to work so we don’t see as much of each other as we used to–we had a grand time catching up while the kids ran around the pub like wild banshees. Here’s David with his two buddies: Alannah and Jack Kelly (David calls him Jack Kelly–not just Jack–Jack KELLY. I kind of love it because it sounds so very Irish):

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Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day so we went out to Blarney Castle for a romp in the gardens. The castle grounds were beautiful with the Spring flowers blooming and the (rare) sun shining to warm us:

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On Sunday we had our day of rest to prepare for the busy day on Monday: St. Patrick’s Day! Since St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland,  Jon had the day off work (woot!). We started our day with a hearty St. Patrick’s-themed breakfast: “shamrock pancakes” (green pancakes) and “leprechaun juice” (green milk).

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After breakfast we noticed that there were little green “clues” hidden all over the place. Apparently, a sneaky little leprechaun had snuck into our house while we were sleeping and hidden his treasure for us to find. The boys ran around (and up and down and all about) following the clues until they found the leprechaun’s treasure:

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After our scavenger hunt we dressed up in our green get-ups and got ready to drive into the city for the Cork City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Even Bota dressed up for the occasion (even if she didn’t get to come with us to the parade):

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We arrived about 2 hours before the start of the parade which was kind of perfect–all of the Catholics (a.k.a all of the Irish people) were still in mass so we got a great parking spot and staked out a seat along the parade route. While we were waiting for the parade to begin we wandered around and got lunch at the food booths, visited the face painters in the park, and generally took it all in. We were here, in Ireland, for St. Patrick’s Day!

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The parade was a grand affair. Michael Flatley of “Riverdance” fame was the master of ceremonies, although I didn’t even recognize him when he drove by (you can hardly blame me–he wasn’t wearing tights). The parade had bands, acrobats, dancing groups, an eclectic collection of international groups, fire trucks, and floats. The boys loved watching the parade–David’s favorite group was “the army guys” and Jacob’s favorite was the Chinese dragon (I know because he cried when it went around the corner and he couldn’t see it anymore). It was all really, really wonderful.

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The parade must have wiped the boys out because shortly after we returned home I  found them resting on the floor with blankets they’d pulled off their beds. Ah, even leprechauns need their sleep.

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I probably should have joined them for their little afternoon snooze, because my day was far from over at this point. After the boys were tucked in for the night we had a babysitter come over so Jon and I could go out and enjoy the St. Paddy’s nightlife. We went back into the city and met up with our friend (and Jon’s co-worker), Cole, who had just arrived in town for a week of work in the Ireland office.

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We visited some pubs, and I learned three important truths on our little late-night escapade:

1. There is nothing like celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in an Irish pub. Especially if that Irish pub is actually in Ireland. The atmosphere was…how do I put this…electric. Everything was buzzing and alive and, well, crazy. It was tons of fun.

2. Even the rowdiest pub in Ireland will still serve you tea and scones at midnight. No joke.

3. I am getting old. One of the pubs had a great band playing cover songs and we spent most of the night signing and dancing along with (what seemed to be) half of Ireland. I left the pub feeling old. Very, very old. Nevermind the fact that I still can’t hear out of my left ear (the one that was facing the speaker while the band played) or the fact that I left the pub clutching my sore back (too much dancing). The thing that makes me feel REALLY old is the fact that me, Jon, and Cole were the only ones singing along to songs from our high school days. Which makes sense when you consider that most of the other revelers in the pub were probably in Kindergarten when those songs were popular. Dang.

In short, St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland was everything I’d hoped that it would be…and more. Every St. Patrick’s Day for the rest of my life I will remember this week: that time that I was actually in Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day.

And it was–wait for it–legendary.

Repost: Redeeming St. Patrick’s Day

I posted this entry last year shortly after returning from our first visit to Ireland. Now that we are actually living in Ireland and about to celebrate our first St. Patrick’s Day here, I thought it would be fitting to repost it. Although the drinking and the leprechauns still seem to steal the show here in Ireland, I am reminded that St. Patrick was a real man who really stood for something. So, on Monday as we join thousands of spectators lining St. Patrick’s Street and Grand Parade for (what I’m hoping will be) the most memorable St. Patrick’s Day parade I’ve ever witnessed, I’ll keep good ‘ol Patrick in mind. And hopefully he won’t mind if I have a pint in his memory.

 

Original Post: Redeeming St. Patrick’s Day and a Shamrock Craft

I’ve never really liked St. Patrick’s Day. People seem to just use it as an excuse to drink too much beer and pinch unsuspecting bystanders who made the unfortunate choice to not wear green on March 17th. This year, however, I’m seeing things a bit differently. You see, I just got back from my first trip to Ireland where I learned a lot about Irish history and who St. Patrick really was (yes, he was a real person). So this year, instead of eating green eggs in a drunken stupor, I am going to try and redeem St. Patrick’s Day for my kids.

Who Was St. Patrick?
First of all, Patrick is not really a Saint (you know, the capital “s” type canonized by the Catholic church). And he’s not even Irish. Patrick was born in Scotland and, when he was about 16 years old, he was captured in a raid and brought to Ireland as a slave (this was in about the year 405–a really long time ago). At the time, Ireland was a radically pagan place– considered to be about as far away from God as any place on the planet. Patrick’s grandfather, however, had been a priest. While Patrick remained in bondage in Ireland he clung to his faith and relied on prayer. Then, after 6 years, he managed to escape and return home.

When Patrick was in his 40’s, God brought him back to Ireland–this time as a missionary (I love God’s sense of irony!). Patrick had become intimately connected with the Irish people during his years in slavery and history tells us that one of his first converts was the very man who had held Patrick in captivity. Patrick went on to spend the next several years of his life preaching and spreading the gospel throughout Ireland. He was so successful in his missionary work that he turned the once-pagan island into one of the early centers of the Christian faith.

Legend has it that on one of Patrick’s missionary journeys through Ireland he came to a castle at the top of a rocky crag called the Rock of Cashel. I had the great honor of visiting the Rock of Cashel a few weeks ago when I was in Ireland:

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It was here at the Rock of Cashel that Patrick (reputedly) used a shamrock to tell the story of the trinity and then baptized King Aengus. Basically, the illustration of the shamrock trinity is that each of the leaves represents one of God’s persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While they are each separate and unique, they are all part of one whole.

As you look out from the Rock of Cashel to the Irish countryside, it’s easy to imagine what that day must have been like:

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For The Kids: Shamrock Collages
This week I told my 2 year old about St. Patrick. I told him how he was a man who lived a long, long time ago and that God used him to help other people learn about Jesus. We looked at pictures of shamrocks and I explained the trinity to little David using Patrick’s illustration. It was awesome!

Then the former-kindergarten teacher in me had to get crafty. We decided to commemorate our little shamrock “lesson” with a simple project.

I started by gathering an assortment of green things: scrapbooking paper, pom-poms, foam shapes, tissue paper and a large piece of green cardstock. I also put a dime-sized squirt of glue into a bowl with a Q-tip to use as a paintbrush:

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I used a pencil to draw a shamrock shape onto the cardstock (heavy construction paper or cardboard painted green would also work), then I cut out the shamrock:

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I sat David down at the table and gave him all of the green things I’d collected. He helped me tear the tissue paper into small pieces (this is great fine-motor practice, by the way!). Then I showed David how to use the Q-tip to “paint” glue onto the shamrock where he wanted to stick his green things. Whenever we’re using glue we use the mantra “just a dot, not a lot!”. David had a lot of fun picking out the decorations for his shamrock and sticking them on.

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He required quite a bit of supervision and direction (put the glue here…ok, now pick out another piece of paper..ok, now put the paper on top of the glue…please don’t lick the glue…). In the end, though, his little shamrock turned out pretty darn cute! And the best part of all: we’ll have something meaningful to think about this St. Patricks day.

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Weekend in Kilkenny

For a few months now we’ve been planning a trip with some friends of ours, Audrey and Dave and their three children: Zoe, Jack and Benjamin. Audrey and Dave are from a place called Kilkenny, and they were generous enough to offer themselves as our hosts and guides for our weekend out in the country. We were all very excited for our little 2-family getaway. That is, until this happened:

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On the eve of our most-exciting trip, David came down with a nasty viral infection. His fever spiked to 105 degrees in the middle of the night, and we decided to take him to the hospital for a little check-up just to be safe. So, with a sick child and no previous Irish-hospital experience, Jon braved a night in the ER. I could devote an entire blog post just to this ridiculous hospital visit, but for now I’ll just say that it involved Jon kicking down a door in the hospital, sitting in a waiting room with people who had been waiting for TWELVE HOURS, and getting sent home with a “prescription” for Tylenol. Needless to say, Jon and David were pretty wiped out from the whole hospital experience and neither of them were up for a trip to the country–no matter how glorious it was going to be.  We decided that it would be best for Jon and David to stay home and rest up while Jacob and I went on to meet our friends in Kilkenny.

Jacob and I got up before the crack of dawn (his idea, not mine), packed up the car, and drove 2 hours north into the Irish countryside. The drive itself was gorgeous–pastures, farms, animals, and ancient ruins everywhere you looked:

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We arrived in Kilkenny just after 10:00 on Saturday morning so we had the whole day to explore. Audrey’s parents run a grain farm, and they were kind enough to put us all up in the bungalow on their property. The “bungalow” was actually a huge house with 5 bedrooms, a large kitchen, and 2 sitting rooms. The bungalow is on the farm, so we could look out the window and see tractors going by and even hear animals baa-ing and moo-ing in the distance.  We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place to stay on our little Irish holiday.

The first thing we did after getting unpacked was to go for a little walk around the farm:

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All of the kids had a great time checking out the big tractors and massive farm machinery. Every little boy’s dream come true!

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We walked through the ginormous grain sheds (seriously, I think you could fit Safeco Field inside one of these guys!) and got to learn about all of the different grains that are on the farm:

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Audrey’s dad, Farmer Harper (alright, I don’t know if anyone calls him that, but his last name is Harper!), came down for a bit to show us around his farm and take the kids for rides on the tractor:

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And then it was insisted upon that I drive the tractor:

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I tried to warn them that I didn’t have an insurance policy to cover tractor collisions, but they still gave me the go-ahead (don’t worry, I drove at about 0.5 Miles Per Hour and couldn’t have hit a turtle if I’d been gunning for it):

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After a fun morning playing at Farmer Harper’s grain farm we headed out for our next farm-venture. Audrey’s cousin runs an open farm (a farm open for visitors with animals and kids’ activities) called Nore Valley Park, just up the road from her parents’ farm. There were lots of baby animals for us to see and pet and cuddle at Nore Valley: ducklings, chicks, and bunnies.

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My favorite babies, though, were definitely these twin lambs (you can only see one because her sister is lying behind Mama Sheep). They were born just a few hours before we arrived–they were so new that they still had their umbilical cords hanging on them!

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There were lots of fun activities for the kids including Jacob’s favorite, the sand pit:

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There were so many gorgeous animals for us to visit out on the farm. It doesn’t get much more Irish than this: a flock of fuzzy sheep and their new baby lambs grazing in a lush green field:

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We made one last stop after Nore Valley at a pottery studio called Nicholas Mosse. Kilkenny is well-known for the Irish arts and crafts that are produced in this region, so I had to see at least one design center while we were there.

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The Nicholas Mosse studio was very cool. The building itself is a 250-year old former grain mill on the banks of the River Nore. Inside, you can see demos of artists throwing the pottery and hand-painting each piece. Unfortunately, there were no demos for us to view while we were visiting, but there were several displays and videos showing us the whole pottery-making process.

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We spent a bit of time perusing the pottery that was for sale in the store. But, since I didn’t have $80 to spare for a tea cup, we decided to move along.

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There was a lovely cafe upstairs with a view of the river below. We all got tea and snacks to eat in the cafe. And, just to prove how Irish he’s becoming, Jacob drank nearly my whole pot of tea before I could get a sip in.

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We took the scenic road home from Nicholas Mosse and, my, was it gorgeous. Beautiful roads winding along rivers and past pristine country farms. A gorgeous end to our first day in Kilkenny.

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We spent our second day exploring the sights in Kilkenny. We started at Kilkenny Castle, a majestic building that is very unlike the rest of the typically rustic castles I’ve seen in Ireland. We posed for a quick group photo in front of the castle and then explored a bit of the grounds. There is a beautiful park surrounding the castle, complete with rose gardens and an awesome playground for the kids.

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At this point, the babies were already asleep in their strollers so we decided to leave Dave outside with all of the kids at the playground while Audrey and I went inside to tour the castle (you win Man of The Year for that one, Dave!).

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The castle itself was incredible. It was built in 1195 on the banks of the River Nore and was occupied by many different people throughout its history. The last family to inhabit these walls was the prosperous Butler family, and they went all out in the opulence department. There is hand-painted silk wallpaper in the drawing room and gold-plated ceilings in the library. Most of the furnishings, decorations, and details of the castle have been restored to their former glory. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside–but just take my word for it, it was amazing!

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After touring the castle we walked through town to do a bit of exploring:

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As we were walking through town we came upon all of these lovely anti-witch posters. You see, Kilkenny was the home of Alice Kyteler, the first woman accused and condemned as a witch in Ireland.

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After her fourth husband “mysteriously” died, Alice Kyteler was accused of being a witch and sentenced to death. She got wind of this unfortunate turn of events and hastily found her way right out of Ireland. She must have forgotten to tell her maidservant, Petronella de Meath, about all of this, though–she was burned at the stake in Kyteler’s place in 1324. Today you can still visit Kyteler’s former house in Kilkenny. It is a pub, as it has been since 1324 when the residents abandoned the house.

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Continuing our walk through Kilkenny we came to a spot on the sidewalk where you can see the remains of the 13th century city wall. This wall was (obviously) built as a fortress to protect the residents inside the city and (not so obviously) as a means to separate the wealthy English residents and the poor Irish residents. Consequently, the two sides of the wall were called English town and Irish town, respectively.

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Our final two stops on our walk through Kilkenny were two ancient churches. The first church we visited, Black Abbey, was built in 1225. It was deliberately built outside the town walls so that they could serve residents of both English town and Irish town and claim their independence from either side.

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The second church we visited was St. Canice’s Cathedral. The cathedral was closed to the public when we visited, but I hear that the inside is gorgeous. What we could see on the outside was also quite fascinating.  For instance, the round tower that stands to the side of the cathedral was a sort of hideout that the monks could go to if the cathedral was ever attacked (which, by merely imagining the effort that must have gone into building that tower, I would have to assume happened quite often). The door to the round tower is about 10 feet off the ground and would be accessed with a ladder–once the monks were safely inside, they’d pull up the ladder and climb to the top of the tower where they would be safe.

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I loved Kilkenny–the beautiful countryside, the quaint town, the rich history. I’m already planning our next trip here–hopefully minus the fevers and late-night hospital visits!

Belfast: From Ships To Sheep

This weekend we took a roadtrip to a foreign country: Northern Ireland. Yes, this is still part of the island of Ireland and, no, there is not a physical border crossing that you pass through (much to my disappointment…I really wanted another stamp in my passport!). Nevertheless, The North is part of the U.K. and is, therefore, a separate country. Our destination this weekend was Belfast, a city rich in history  and conflict. A city, we happily discovered, that is well worth a visit. When we told David that we were going to Belfast, he quickly retorted that he wanted to see “ships and sheep” there (not sure why…guess he just thought that would be cool to see). So, we had our mission set before us: get to Belfast and see ships and sheep.

The drive from Cork to Belfast is just over 4 hours. We loaded up our car with snacks and iPads for the kiddos and left town early Friday morning. We made one stop along the way, just north of Dublin. The Gas Station Oasis (as I’m now referring to it) that we stopped at was amazing–it had shops, restaurants, free wifi, and indoor and outdoor playgrounds for the kids. It was the perfect place to stop, refuel, and get some wiggles out before getting back on the road.
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Our journey went smoothly and both kids did great during the long drive.  We arrived in Belfast at about 2:00, and that’s when the most stressful part of our trip began. First, we missed a turn and got onto a Motorway going the opposite direction of where we needed to be. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be such a big deal but, since we were now in a foreign country, our cell phones weren’t working yet with the local network. Which means that the GPS we were using for navigation went out. And the physical maps we had were not detailed enough for us to find our way out. Which means we were a bit lost.  In the end, Jon’s keen sense of direction got us back on track and we found our destination–a bit frazzled and a bit later than we had hoped to arrive, but all in one piece. And that leads me to our next problem.

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Jon had a Very Important Meeting that he had to attend for work that afternoon at 3:00 (so the driving aimlessly around lost in a city we’ve never been to before really didn’t help things). We had originally thought we could check in to our accommodations in time for the Very Important Meeting so Jon could use the wifi. Unfortunately, our host was out of town until later in the evening and we couldn’t be let in until he got back. Long story short, we found a business center just in the nick of time that Jon could go in and pay (a lot of money) to have a conference room so he could use the wifi and take his phone call for the Very Important Meeting.

Unfortunately for me, I was now stranded in a city I’d never been to before, without a car or navigation, with two hungry and very tired children. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself, so I just started walking toward the big buildings that I assumed represented downtown. Thankfully my instincts were right and we quickly found our way to the central train station. We hunkered down at the train station for awhile so we could eat a snack and get our bearings.

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There were lots of maps available at the train station so I picked one up and we headed back out to explore the city. Belfast is a beautiful city. Most of the buildings were built of brick in the mid-1800’s, so everywhere you look there are these rich red-brown buildings towering over you:

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After wandering around the city for awhile we found our way to the waterfront where we watched boats cruising up and down the river (and where the boys could participate in their favorite activity of all time, throwing rocks into water).

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Finally, the Very Important Meeting was over and our host was available to let us in to our house. For me, the house we stayed in was actually one of the coolest parts of our trip. The house was originally owned by Anthony “Artie” Frost. Artie was an engineer for Harland and Wolff, the company responsible for building Titanic right here in Belfast. Artie was a member of the Titanic Guarantee Group, which basically means that Harland and Wolff were so sure their ship was unsinkable that they sent a team of their own engineers to ride on its maiden voyage as a “guarantee” of how sound she was. Artie perished in the sinking of Titanic, leaving behind a wife and three children (and, consequently, his very cool house):

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As we were walking around Belfast we came upon this Titanic memorial at City Hall. On the base of it there is listed every Belfast resident who lost their life on Titanic:

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And right there, 4th name from the top, is our friend Anthony Frost:

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The house was quite spacious. The boys each had their own room on the 3rd floor, we had the master suite on the 2nd floor, and the living space was on the 1st floor.  David and Jacob loved all of the stairs and they had races to see who could slide from the top floor down to the bottom the fastest:

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The view from the landing between the 2nd and 3rd floors of the house was pretty amazing. The house backs up to a church and, if you look into the distance, you can see the yellow gantry cranes of Harland and Wolff that still stand at the same shipyard where Titanic was built. I can just imagine Artie Frost standing here in his house and looking out this window to see the building of this unsinkable ship he had helped to design:

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After we got settled in that night we walked around the neighborhood and found a great little pizzeria for dinner. We were all pretty wiped out from our big day of travel so we just got our pizza to go and brought it back to the house to eat. And then, it was off to sleepy-land for all of us.

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The next morning (Saturday) we started our day in a neighborhood right down the street from where we were staying. Jon and I really wanted to come here because this is where one of our favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, got his start. C.S. Lewis holds a special place in our hearts because Jon and I actually met when we were in college studying one of his books together. We just had to see where the beginning of our beginning was.

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C.S. Lewis was born in this house, “Little Lea”, in 1898. He lived in this house until he joined the service during World War I when he was 19 years old:

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We couldn’t actually go inside the house because it is a private residence, but it was still fun to see it and picture where little C.S. (well, they called him Jack back then) used to roam. C.S. Lewis told his biographer that he used to spend hours upon hours playing in an upstairs room in this house when he was a boy–an empty room with nothing but a wardrobe–and that this was his inspiration for “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”.  Here is a photo that I found in a book in a library in Belfast of C.S. Lewis with his family standing on the front porch of Little Lea when he was a boy (C.S. Lewis is second from the left in this photo, wearing the black outfit):

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After our walk around C.S. Lewis-land we drove into the city for some exploring. We started at Victoria Square, a large shopping center in the heart of the city center. We got some coffee and then made the obligatory stop at the Belfast Apple store. Then we took the lift to the dome at the top of the shopping center where there were some amazing views of the city:

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Our shopping spree continued down the road at St. George’s Market, the oldest public market in Belfast. The market has a very interesting history that is shown in a series of photos that line the walls of the market. Apparently, during the Belfast Blitz of World War II this space was even used as a temporary mortuary to house the bodies of those who perished in the attack.

The Saturday morning market was buzzing with vendors selling everything from produce to meats to spices, baked goods, preserves, artwork, handicrafts, and toys. David got a new stuffed animal there, a hippo that he has named “David Junior”. As an added bonus, the boys also got to pet goats, rabbits, and baby chicks:IMG_2060

From the market we continued on to the Linen Hall Library, the oldest library in Belfast. Books were quite a rarity in Ireland when this library was built in 1788, so it was quite a landmark for its day. The library had a nice children’s area where the boys could play and read, and there was an amazing collection of Irish works on the top floor (including several written by and about our favorite Belfast-born author, C.S. Lewis):

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We spent our afternoon exploring the Titanic Belfast museum. The museum opened about 2 years ago, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. It is a beautiful modern museum with incredible exhibits. The museum is in the dock area of Belfast, on the actual site where Titanic was built in the early 1900’s. The building is even meant to resemble the shape and size of Titanic, so you really get a good idea of how massive the ship would have been:

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We spent several hours exploring the museum. There were lots of interactive exhibits that could engage even the fidgety-est of 3-year olds:

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There was even a ride in the museum that took you through the ship-building process. We got to ride in our own little pod that was suspended from the ceiling, almost like a gondola that went up and down and all around. It was hard to get a good photo on the ride because it was dark and moving, but we all had a great time!

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Wandering through the museum we even came across several places where “our” former house-owner, Anthony Frost, was mentioned:

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After seeing the entire Titanic Museum we decided to continue on to view one more piece of Titanic history, the pump house and docks where Titanic was fitted out for sea. On our way to the docks we passed Titanic Studios, a production studio where the T.V. show “Game of Thrones” is filmed:

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The Pump House (the area that housed machinery for pumping sea water in and out of the docks) was pretty much left exactly how it was in the early 1900’s when Titanic was housed outside its windows.  There were lots of big levers and wheels and buttons that the boys could touch, and lots of loud gangways that they could run (er…walk…) up and down:

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The docks themselves were amazing. Just this huge, huge pit in the ground where enormous ships would have sat until they were ready for sea. This photo shows Titanic sitting in the dock, with the empty dock behind it:
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We were able to go all the way to the bottom of the dock and stand where the bottom of Titanic would have sat. Being in the massive dock with towering walls rising 4 stories above your head gives you an appreciation for the people who would have been down here working on the ship every day. Let’s just say I’m glad that wasn’t my job!

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Suffice it to say, we saw lots of ships and “ship stuff” in Belfast. Alright, David, one down, one to go on the “ships and sheep tour”.

Our final excursion for the day was to drive by the “Peace Walls” that separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast. During The Troubles that scarred this city for nearly 40 years, these walls were erected to keep peace between warring groups of Protestants and Catholics. Even though city officials have tried to take down the walls in recent years, the residents living inside them insist that they remain standing. Many of the walls are covered in colorful murals:

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…and other sections of the walls just look like prison barriers, complete with barbed wire and police watch towers:

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This house even has a cage covering their entire back yard–just in case someone tries to throw a petrol bomb or something over the fence:

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It was crazy to see how some people in this city still live in fear–and even hatred–of their own neighbors.

The next day (Sunday) we made one more stop before heading out of town. We visited a unique “museum” called the Ulster Folk Park on the outskirts of Belfast city. The folk park consists of historical buildings from around Ulster (the region of Northern Ireland where Belfast is located) that have been relocated to the park. Each building was taken apart, stone-by-stone or brick-by-brick, and moved here to the park. The park is set up to look like a city and a rural community in Ulster during the early-1900’s. Guests can wander through the town, go inside the buildings, and even see actors dressed in period costume who demonstrate what life would have been like 100 years ago:

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I enjoyed sitting the boys down in the 1-room school house–boy am I glad I never had to work in one of those! One teacher, up to 100 children aged 6-12, 1 coal-burning fireplace for heat, 1 outhouse, and very few books or learning materials available. At least the pupils were cute:

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There were beautiful old farm houses that we could explore both outside:

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…and inside:
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There was even a man demonstrating how a printing press works–we were all very impressed:

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We found our way out to the “rural” part of the museum where there were working farms. We saw all sorts of animals, including donkeys, chickens, pigs, and SHEEP! Sheep: check.

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Our last stop at the folk park was the town sweet shop so we could pick up some treats for the looooong drive back to Cork. David chose the largest, most ridiculously-colored rainbow lollipop in the store.

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The folk park was huge–we were there for over 3 hours and we still didn’t see everything. Alas, it was time for us to say goodbye to Belfast and hit the road. We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend in Belfast, and we’d love to come back to Northern Ireland again soon to explore the Northern coast and surrounding areas. For now, though, I think we can leave saying that we saw all that we came to see–even ships and sheep.