The Old Schoolhouse

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Here’s where we are staying this week in the west of Ireland. It’s an old schoolhouse, built by a scion of Connemara in the 19th century. It functioned as a school with the masters quarters attached to it until 1964. It’s spacious and well equipped except for the aforementioned lack of wi-fi. There are however about 800 channels! The house sits above Clifden, the almost Alpine like town, that is the capital of Connemara. High on Church Hill, we can walk into town for supplies or dinner. The famous Alcock and Brown Hotel, is closest and we have fallen into a pattern of ending our day there. Last nite we had a lovely dinner looking out on the main street.

The hotel is named for two aviators who crossed the Atlantic in 1919 from St. John’s Newfoundland, and landed just outside this little town.

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When I first went to Ireland in the 1970’s, the hotel is where we went to place transatlantic phone calls. We had to place the call with the overseas operator and then wait for the call to be placed and travel over the transatlantic cable. Sometimes it could take over an hour. We also had to take the 5 hour time difference into consideration. Very intriguing.

A Stone’s Throw

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Stones, rocks, boulders, shards, pebbles, flints, cliffs, crags, escarpments, quarry, slab, lava and any other name that can be given to a rock or a rock formation and it is located on the Aran Islands, a stone’s throw from the west coast of Galway, supposedly the last land masses before the Americas in the west.

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Here, 9 miles out to sea, is a trio of islands. Today, we visited, Inis Mor, making the crossing by high speed ferry in about 40 minutes to the port of Kilronan. The year round population is 851. There are 3 schools, 3 churches, and 14 separate villages. The islanders exist in a truly barren landscape and run the cottage and tourist industries on the island.

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Over 30 members of one family run the ferries, handwriting each ticket, running the canteen on each ferry, casting lines, and piloting the boats.

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IMG_2154.JPGOther residents meet each ferry with mini buses, horse drawn traps called haunting cars and rented bikes. Villagers knit the famed Aran sweater, and run the small craft stores and cafés all over the island. My great grandmother came from this place. Brigid Flaherty, left this other worldly place, this place of stones, to make a better world for herself.

Picture This..

The wi-fi emergency is over…a trip to the Vodaphone store in Galway and a reasonable amount of €uros provide us with a hot spot that is now happily squawking a signal from the hall table. Plus we can take it on the road!

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So to catch you up, here a some images from past 3 or 4 days!

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Ireland’s Best Kept Secret

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In all the times I have been to Ireland, how did I never go to Westport before?
A gem of a town that reminds me of Newport Rhode Island, Kennebunkport, Maine and cute towns everywhere. Terrific food, great shopping, beautiful scenery and world class pubs with world class pints. We stayed in Westport on Thursday and Friday nite, before our weeklong stay in Clifden in the west.
We stayed at the Westport Coast Hotel and I would rate it a solid 4.5 on a 5 point scale, with 5 being highest. The location is out of this world. The hotel sits on the old quay in Westport, and has a number of cafés, shops and restaurants around within walking distance. Most people walk or drive back into town. It is also about 3 miles from Croagh Patrick, the holy mountain.
Beds great, hot, power showers, electric kettles, big thick duvets, all great. Rooms over car park …not so much. Satisfying and well cooked hot breakfast for hotel guests in the top floor restaurant, with panoramic views of the mountain and the sea. And it has THE best brown bread I have ever had!. I will be requesting the recipe, and on the final morning when I asked if I could buy a loaf, I was gifted one, no charge…my only directive was to enjoy the bread!

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Six degrees of separation for me and Westport.. My maternal great grandfather once walked all the way from his house to the quay to get a boat that would bring him to Cobh (Cove)and a ship to America. It is easily a 40 mike journey. The pier he left from, is the same quay the Westport hotel sits on today.

A Sea Voyage and A Castle

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Limited connectivity here in the Wild West of Ireland and no wifi in our rental house, so I am resorting to hotel bars and purchasing my wifi time with. Pint of Guinness. Yesterday took a lovely cruise on Killary Fjord, and then spent the afternoon at the beautiful Kylemore Abbey.

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The Holy Ground…

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Croagh Patrick is the holy mountain in Ireland where St. Patrick supposedly fasted before preaching Christianity. It is called the Reek, and it is a formidable piece of rock. Pilgrims and hikers come from all over the world to climb the Reek. The height is 2500 feet, and there is a functioning chapel at the top. Many pilgrims walk barefoot as penitents.

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This is not a grassy hill with a steep side, this is a crumbled rock path (sometimes). My sister wanted to give it a go, so we set up a drop off/pick up schedule and made sure she had snacks and water for the climb. She completed about a third of it, because of wind, rain and time, she came down, but was happy with her effort. I was impressed anyone would attempt. My sister claims that the pilgrims all check on each other and give encouragement along the way. We saw many Irish families climbing the mountain together, and was told it was very traditional to do so. My sister overheard one family whose little girl said with a wee brogue, ” we are NOT climbing that whole thing!” Her mother’s response: “keep walking”…
Once we located the pilgrim, we went across the road to see the National Famine Memorial, in remembrance of “an gorta mor” the great hunger.
Set above the bay in a beautiful meadow, the bronze “coffin ship” reminds us how much was lost in leaving and how much was almost certain to be lost if one stayed in Ireland in those dire times.

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Queen of Ireland

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Once into Mayo, we head for Knock, site of an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to a group of villagers in the village of Knock, Ireland. Unlike the shrines at Fatima and Lourdes, Our Lady appeared to 15 villagers, so there were many corroborating stories of a lovely lady with a golden crown who was with St.Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, and a lamb and altar. The witnesses stayed together in the pouring rain for over two hours praying, while the apparition stayed with them. It was Thursday, the 21st of August, 1879. So Thursday, when we arrived, was the 135th anniversary and as expected, there were special novenas, and programs of devotions. What I did not expect was that at 5 pm, I would be a able to pull up in front of the shrine, find a parking space and find less than 200 people on site. I thought there would be mobs, but instead saw that you could shoot a cannon though the site and not hit anyone.

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It was not my first visit to the shrine. I first went in 1976 ( part of the famous, 3 Masses in 10 hours marathon…) and have made several visits over the years. I love the small chapel of the apparition, with the glass front, and the rest and care center for pilgrims who come seeking comfort from their afflictions. I love that it is still a working parish, even though there is a basilica right next to the little church. And I love the Holy Water fountains.On demand fountains, all day, everyday. Never runs out.

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This visit, we wandered over to the cemetery to see the “witness graves”.

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All the witness graves contain a separate cantilevered tablet indicating the deceased was “witness to the apparition”.

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The Way West…

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We left Belfast yesterday morning, heading west to Mayo and Connemara. We drove first to Enniskillen, where last year’s G8 meeting was held, and had a quick lunch, then on to the Belleek pottery site for a strategic strike on the gift shop. The factory and museum is situated on the banks of the river Erne, in County Fermanagh. They have tea room, the museum, and a nice showroom/gift shop.

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In the museum was the piece of Belleek shown below that is one of the most breathtaking pieces of craftsmanship I have ever seen. It was exhibited at a Paris exhibition and is composed of hundreds flowers. Exquisite.

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Then into county Sligo- Yeats’ country where we watch the sun play hide and seek with Ben Bulben, the large rock formation that dominates the countryside.

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More countryside and then at last, the sea.

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This Little Piggy…

Marks and Spencer is a fairly chi chi department store a la Macy’s that has a line of gummies named for Percy the Pig.
Here are the mini gummies…

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Here are his international friends…

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And following the trend of snout to tail…here are the snouts..

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And his curly tail…

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And he said “wee,wee,wee…all the way home”!

Unsinkable…

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We arrived in Belfast yesterday afternoon, and this morning, bright and early headed to the area of Belfast now known as the Titanic Quarter. This entire section of the city was once the home of the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard, the location and firm that built the most famous ship of all time.

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The centerpiece of this part of the city of course is the Titanic Experience, a multi floor, multi media, multi immersion museum with four distinct prow shaped wings. The wings that look like the bows of the ships built in those docks, from the air form a white star, in homage of course to White Star Lines, the Titanic’s operational owner ( although we learn in one of the galleries that much of the financing came from JP Morgan).

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It’s a truly interactive experience and we spent well over 3 hours in the galleries, immersing ourselves in the stories, not only of the tragedy, but also the stories of the dockyard workers and the city of Belfast itself. In the early 1900’s the city was a boom town because of the combined industries of shipbuilding and linen manufacturing, a product of fine Irish flax. We also learn that Belfast had strong businesses in tobacco, what we now know to be HVAC systems, and “aerated waters” of all things. Belfast soda was a popular soft drink.
The galleries contain everything from a Disney like ride through the dockyard and gantries, to a “walk” over a simulation of the wreck two and a half miles down on the ocean floor, to mock ups of first and third class cabins. There are reproductions of the china, a menu from lunch on that Sunday afternoon, and parts of transcripts from the US Senate and British Board of Trade inquiries, that began the day after the Carpathia returned the survivors to New York.
Visitors learn of Mary Mangan, an Irish immigrant engaged to be married, who had gone home to Ireland to show off her engagement ring, and boarded the ship in (then) Queenstown with wedding presents in her luggage. Her body was recovered a few weeks after the tragedy by a salvage team, and identified by her name on a locket. Her diamond ring, listed on her original identification, was never returned to her family. Her village of Addergoole, in County Mayo, Ireland, suffered the loss of 14 citizens.
Finally in the last gallery, the transcripts of the Marconi wireless calls for help. SOS was a new call, replacing the prior call sign of CDQ and probably not well known. At 1:30 am, only “C” and the “D” of CDQ is transmitted….
The aerial shot above shows the two giant cranes, installed at Harland and Wolf in the 1960’s still used today, although workers now number 200 versus the 30,000 that were employed during the early 1900’s. The cranes are named “Samson” and “Goliath”. The double green door building on the left center of photos is Titanic Studios, an old paint shop for the shipyard. It is where the show “Game of Thrones” is filmed