Tuesday, May 12, 2009

TOP 10 IRELAND

10. Language: I simply loved seeing every sign in both Irish Gaelic and English. But not as much as I loved listening to the Irish talk. I'm a sucker for certain accents.

9. Gogarty's Pub: I swore I'd eat in a pub, and I did. An old pub, to boot. Temple Bar is a section of Dublin on the south bank of the Liffey river full of tiny cobbled streets, old buildings, lots of music and bookstores and more pubs than any one section of any city should rightfully have. It wasn't easy choosing where to eat, but we finally settled on Gogarty's, a four-story, brightly decorated corner building. The restaurant is on the top floor with low, beamed ceilings and wonderful views of Temple Bar below. And how can you beat a recipe that's more than 200 years old? That's the claim of the Sackville Street Chicken casserole, and my tastebuds agreed with every year of its worth.

8. St. Stephen's Green: Our hotel was kitty-corner from this park in central Dublin and I went through it half a dozen times a day. It's beautifully green (naturally) and spring flowers and fountains and swans on the water added to its charm. And I fulfilled my other promise--I went running in the Green one afternoon while listening to U2. As my husband had said from an earlier experience doing the same: "Listening to U2 in Dublin is practically a religious experience."

7. National Museum: Relatively small, but stuffed with wonderful treasures. I'm not much of a gold person, but that went right out the window when I walked in the ground floor and hit the Bronze Age gold room. Everywhere I looked were wonderful gold pieces from hundreds to thousands of years old. Bracelets and torcs and dress fasteners and cloak fasteners . . . I'm surprised I ever made it out of that exhibit. But I did, onto textiles and religious artifacts and medieval treasures such as reliquaries and altar crosses. They even have one room of Egyptian artifacts (although, for anyone who's read Elizabeth Peters' Peabody/Emerson novels, you can imagine I walk through Egyptian treasures hearing Emerson's voice in my head criticizing the dating and provenance and general fitness of every Egyptologist but him . . . but that just adds to the fun.)

6. Cathedrals: Dublin has two--Christ Church, the oldest cathedral in Ireland, and St. Patrick's. The first building on the Christ Church site was built in the 11th century by the Viking Sitric Silkenbeard. St. Patrick's is next to the well where Patrick himself is said to have baptized the first Christians in Ireland (the cathedral houses an ancient carved stone that is believed to have covered that well). I love old churches and these two had plenty to love: monuments (from 17th-century gaudy to 14th-century simplicity to 20th-century war memorials), medieval side chapels with original tile floors, stained glass, organ lofts with amazing acoustics, and the perfect, soaring grace of Norman architecture. One of my favorites experiences was attending choral evensong at St. Patrick's, sung by members of the choir school.

5. Kilkenny: one of the best-preserved Georgian towns in Ireland. An hour and a half south of Dublin by train, we spent the weekend walking the marvelous streets lined with buildings going back to the Tudors and with portions of the city wall even older. There's a medieval cathedral here, St. Canice's, with a round tower built in the 9th century as a protection against the Viking raiders (we actually climbed that--me in a long skirt--quite an adventure for someone who's afraid of heights) and a genuine medieval castle. Kilkenny Castle was built by the Normans in the 12th century and for 600 years was the home of the Butler family--Earls, Marquesses, and occasional Dukes of Ormonde--until it was sold to the nation in the 1930s. (Trivia: Anne Boleyn's mother was the daughter of an Earl of Ormonde.) 12th-century round tower, 18th-century drawing room, 19th-century long gallery and kitchen . . . it was all food to my historical soul.

4. Butler House: was once the Dower House to Kilkenny Castle (where the mother would move once her husband died and her son gained the title). Just across the road from the castle, it's now a hotel. Our hotel, in fact. In this restored Georgian townhouse, we ended up with the best room(s) in the house--a two-room suite, both bedroom and sitting room being equally large with high ceilings, original fireplaces, elaborate stucco work, and half-circle bay windows with enormous shutters that closed up into the sides of the windows. I loved everything about it--although I was glad to be there in May and not, say, December. People must have spent most of their lives frozen before central heating.

3. Scones: Someone told me they'd heard the food in Ireland was awful. Not so. At least not the food I ate. Lots of fresh fish, bacon with hardly any fat, wonderful yogurt, and breads to die for. Wonderful desserts--I had creme brulee at least three times. Dozens of little cafes with homemade soups and tarts and thick sandwiches. And, of course, scones. Scones for breakfast, scones for tea, scones anytime I felt like popping off the street and buying one . . . I miss scones.

2. Newgrange: or in Irish, Bru na Boinne. Whatever you call it, Newgrange is absolutely remarkable--one of the best examples of a Neolithic passage grave in Western Europle. It's more than 5000 years old, estimated to have been built around 3200 B.C. (that's a thousand years before the Egyptian pyramids). The outside is large hilltop cairn, a grass-covered mound surround by a drystone wall with some slabs still bearing their original decorations. It does have an astronomical significance--on the day of the winter solstice, the sun rises across the Boyne valley and for approximately 15 minutes lights the interior of the tomb. As someone who's much more moved by recent history (meaning within the last 1000 years), I was astonished by how much Newgrange moved me.

1. Inspiration: Pubs, castles, cathedrals, and passage tombs--one trip to Ireland. Literary inspiration--priceless. I'm almost two-thirds of the way through my second draft of my time-travel romance set in 1800. It doesn't take place in Ireland. But for a novel set in northern England, I was struck my moment after moment of dazzling inspiration. I haven't had that experience since I went to London for the second time and had the story for The Boleyn King practically fall into my lap. Some of it was detail--like Newgrange and Butler House. But some of it was sheer, startling, force of lightning that gave me, not only the plot for the next book in this hopeful series, but the motivation for a major character in this book. Who knew? I'm just glad I was there to take advantage.

Thank you, Ireland.

And thank you, Chris. It's totally worth turning 40 for this gift.

Snapfish Slideshow

5 comments:

Katie said...

So much fun! I love the pictures. Tell Chris he comes out pretty good in my book.

Jess said...

(with a sigh) Sounds heavenly!

Katydid said...

As I ran in St. George this week, I thought of the hotel guests in Ireland wearing those cards with maps to not get lost. It made me chuckle as I wandered the streets. But your list of adventures are decidedly more romantic.

MiddleEastMama said...

Ireland is wonderful, isn't it? All those green things growing all by themselves...no army of Indian gardeners needed. Remarkable. Or maybe I've just been in the Middle East too long!

patesden said...

It's probably good I could go. I wouldn't have come back:)

The photos were a wonderful bonus.