Tag Archives: #Ireland

Ireland Part Two–More Great Sights

Irelandanother land of enchantment 

We live in New Mexico, known as the land of enchantment. Ireland is a bit greener. Beguiling in its own way with some great sights.  

We return to our travel feature on Day Five of our journey.  “Jerry from Derry” dominated the day. A voluble guy, Jerry relished his retirement job of regaling tourists with the history of Ireland. We had to ask if he had been a history professor. But no, he said, he just had an interest in learning about the place he called home. Jerry spent well over an hour offering a political and cultural history of not just Derry but most of Ireland. After leaving employment with the City Council, he became a local guide. That enabled him to give us a tour of the Guild Hall (despite it being closed)—where the Council meets, and exhibits may be found. Exhibits such as a statue of Queen Victoria, her hands missing; those were blown off by a bomb in 1972 during “The Troubles.”

Stained glass windows with historical images
A few of the many windows displaying Irish history over centuries

Note the stained glass windows in the main hall. They were all replaced after the bombing, Jerry informed us. The images depict the political and religious history of Ireland—kings and queens, conquerors, and more. Jerry used those to provide us the details of who lived in Ireland when, who fought whom, who was on which throne, etc.

Then there’s the issue of the name—Derry or Londonderry. Political or religious? Far be it from me, an American, to wade in on this topic. Our driver said it was mostly religious. Our Belfast guide said political. So, it’s Nationalist versus Unionist or Catholic versus Protestant. You can enjoy Ireland without getting involved in such matters. Wherever you’re from, there’s enough to worry about back home. Of course, if you have Irish ancestors, you may want to get into this; mine are way too far back to go there. Jerry’s hour-plus talk was enlightening. We must confess, without taking notes or recording it, we can’t remember all the details.

Day Six, a bit of traveling. Enroute to Sligo Abbey, we stopped at the grave and headstone of WB Yeats—Nobel Prize-winning Irish writer and poet. Writers and poets are one of Ireland’s biggest treasures. Here’s the headstone, with the author’s own epitaph inscribed on it.

The author and his wife at the tombstone of W.B. Yeats
“Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman, pass by.”

Sligo Abbey, built circa 1252, has some issues. A metal plaque explains that the Dominican Priory was endowed by Maurice Fitzgerald, founder of Sligo. The original structure was accidentally burned in 1414. Then damaged in the siege of 1595, and ruined by Hamilton’s Army in 1614. What remains today dates from the 13th and 14th centuries. Other historic buildings in Ireland have fared better and some worse.

The author checking the printed guide to part of the Sligo Abbey before him
Some writer/blogger with a pony tail looking at the map of this part of Sligo Abbey

We arrived midafternoon at Ashford Castle, a five-star hotel/resort at which we would spend two nights. Sleeping, that is, and dining at three of their restaurants. Much to do there that we didn’t have time for. We mostly ate and slept, but did walk the lovely grounds admiring the gardens.

Woman in a trellised garden
That’s her in one of many garden elements on the huge acreage at Ashford

One can try falconry. Play golf. Ride horseback. Indulge in a spa and more.  Bar none, the most luxurious place Juanita and I ever stayed.

One part of the Ashford Castle lobby with a knight's armor, fine wood décor and a deer sculpture
One side of the Ashford lobby

It’s an 800-year-old castle—but you wouldn’t know that to look at it. Of course, it has been upgraded over the centuries—especially in the last one.

A small corner of Ashford Castle, opposite Lough Corrib
A small corner of the castle; the windows look across a large yard toward Lough [Lake] Corrib
We had a late lunch on arrival in the well-appointed bar. We talked with two women at the next table; they said they stay there every year. A bit beyond our normal travel budget, although a manager gave us a free upgrade to a junior stateroom. Thankfully, the tour company get’s an unknown (to us) discount for bookings.

Day Seven, fitting perhaps, we went straightaway from the castle to Kylemore Abbey. It looked nothing like the former priory at Sligo. This one is in excellent condition. Built in the 1860s by wealthy politician Mitchell Henry as an estate, it became a home for a Benedictine order of nuns in 1920. It has a Neo Gothic church, built as a memento to his deceased wife—not quite the Taj Mahal, but reminiscent of a Roman Catholic cathedral. You could also walk the gardens, shop the craft store, have lunch and more. The “craft” store actually has some fine woolens, classy apparel and good souvenirs.

A tour of the grounds is a highly recommended attraction. Not for us on our visit; too rainy. We limited our tour to the building that exhibited the living area of the original owner/builder. As opulent as might be expected, it also has an historical presentation of the current tenants–the Benedictine order.

An historically accurately furnished luxurious late 19th or early 20th room in the Mitchell home at Kylemore
A well-furnished room in the Mitchell Henry home at Kylemore from a by-gone era

From Kylemore, we traveled  farther west to Clifden,   With about 1,600 people, it’s the biggest town in Connemara. A popular tourist stop–see the photo.  We had lunch in a local pub. There we picked up conversations in French among four to five people at the next table. Lots of foreign folks visit. The Republic of Ireland remains in the EU; easy access from elsewhere in Europe.

Many cars parked at angles to curbs in the Irish town of Clifden
We didn’t do much shopping here; just looked around and had lunch

Back to Ashford Castle for our second night, with dinner in the Henry V dining room. Jackets are required for male diners. The next morning, we were there again for breakfast—when jackets are no longer needed.

A table for two in the Henry V dining room in Ashford Castle
We had breakfast and dinner in the Henry V room. Jackets required for gentleman in the evening. We sat at a table with a better view than this one at our two meals therein

Day Eight, a half-day’s drive to the Cliffs of Moher. Another famous outdoors location. Busy even in early May. Historical displays on the topography are found in a visitor center, along with some simple meals in a couple of cafes. Just before the visitor center are some tiny gift shops of Irish memorabilia. More “official” stores can be found indoors.

The tall Cliffs of Moher, buffeted by Atlantic waves
Swimming at the base of the Cliffs is strongly discouraged

Long paths extend in either direction along the cliffs high above the ocean. Those so inclined can hike long distances. We chose the northerly route, with the choice of steps or simple paving. The latter affords the option of golf carts to take one up to the top where O’Brien’s Tower awaits.

People walking along a high atop the Cliffs of Moher
A view from O’Brien’s Tower of people walking a cliff-top path, extending afar

My knees were fine this day, so I did the double circular staircase to the top of the tower. Note, however, the view is often better from the ground because the stone ports atop the tower are thick and narrow–like gun slots. Still, the cropped image above was taken through one of the windows. Below is the interior of the tower. Note the staircase to the left.

Inside O'Brien's Tower, with a staircase seen through a doorway to the left
The interior of the tower; see the base of staircase to the left

Had to include this picture. No, the dog is NOT stuffed nor an available souvenir statue. It is a living breathing shop greeter. A little dog sits placidly atop a pillow in a shop at the Cliffs of Moher You won’t believe it, but the cute little terrier is alive

We had a quick lunch at the Cliffs before departing to the Great Southern Killarney—yes, named after a railway. We had dinner and spent the night at this older hotel. A popular golfing location it seems, as a waiter’s discussion with another patron suggested. The diner told the curious server that he  had a fifth day of 18-holes the next day before heading back to the US.

Day Nine was the great scenic journey—all the way round the Ring of Kerry. A challenge for our tour company and the driver they assigned.  The route is 179 km or 119 miles. Narrow roads and quaint little villages with names like Sneem—neat and painted in vivid colors. A tricky drive with the tour buses that may or may not be going in the opposite direction.

Charlie Chaplin spent many sixties summers in the tiny seaside town of Waterville with his wife Oona. With a maiden name of O’Neill, no surprise they did. The town put up this bronze in front of Ballinskelligs Bay.

A bronze statue of Charlie Chaplin in front of Ballinskelligs Bay
Here’s Charlie and a plaque in his honor to the left

For a better view of the bay, our driver took us up a hill overlooking the tiny village of  462 people. As with other photos of the two of us, he took the picture. All part of the Wild Atlantic Way as it’s called in Ireland.

We stand in parking area for the view of the Atlantic
Too windy for hats; the bay behind us and the other side is a lake and a river
Waiting for his order to arrive at a local cafe
Waiting patiently for my order

Next a stop for lunch and shopping in Kenmare, our last stop along the Ring of Kerry. A much larger town of nearly 2,400 people. It’s worth a stop. It has a wide choice of food and many items you might decide to bring home. We bought some apparel in a Fat Face shop, a UK chain. We ate in a comfortable café called Davitts.

On to our next hotel, the Montenotte a short way to the east of downtown Cork. Another luxury location with a great view of the River Lee. A better look can be had of its own gardens, from within the restaurant or on the open air terrace. [Note that smoking is permitted on the terrace]. The food and service are good.

A view of the gardens and the Cork skyline
The gardens at the Montenotte and some of Cork’s skyline

Day Ten, we toured Kilkenny Castle in the namesake medieval city. The structure has stood for over 800 years, with various modifications over the centuries. If you click on the website, you can find the details of recent (last 200 years) changes.  Its worth a visit. Within are ancient tapestries and pictures of the various royals who once inhabited the place. Look but don’t touch, from behind ropes. No flash photography either; the paintings and tapestries are very old and can’t take the bright light. There are three floors and a basement which includes a small café, bathrooms and an exhibit of latter day art work.

A large gallery room with paintings on the length of the side walls. A sloped glass ceiling lights the room

The Picture Gallery in the East Wing of the castleWe spent our last night in one of two Radisson Blue hotels—this one downtown rather than the airport. Ill timing, as an event had the main dining area reserved. We got dinner at the bar/bistro. Our driver aided our departure the day before by getting us to a COVID testing station. For those of you who may be traveling to the US from overseas and perhaps other locations as well, that entry requirement of a negative test is no longer required. Against the time zones, no red eye this time; just a late arrival at our home destination.

There’s much to see in Ireland that we missed this time. Like the Torc Waterfall near Killarney. Also Skellig Michael that has steps to an ancient monastery. Steps that you might have seen in Star Wars Episode VII “The Force Awakens” or Episode VIII “The Last Jedi.”  It can be reached by a tour boat. Perhaps we’ll run into you. You may recognize us from the photos here. Say hello if you do.

Lastly, an update on medical news. As we said in the first post on the anniversary trip, we NEVER give up. Before more travels across an ocean,  I’ll be getting some treatment for that prostate cancer. Gleason score 9, the biopsy said. Ten is the highest—and worst. Thankfully, a bone scan showed no signs of it spreading–yet.

Oh, but a bit of a wrinkle–the local hospital oncology crew are contractors, whose term is set to expire August 31 and a new group is set to take over September 1.  So no new patients right now. Thankfully, the current group gave me a hormone shot to slow down the cancer. Androgen deprivation usually comes after treatment–not before. But wait, there’s more. The negotiations broke down; no new group and the current doctors deal  is being extended–possibly up to a year! Complicated for the hospital, but great for me.

 The power of prayer—our Buddhist daimoku, chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo means I can get treatment here–sooner than mid to late September. That will be either external beam radiation or proton therapy. No surgery. No chemo. But five days a week for several weeks, 30 minutes or less. Well, actually the proton therapy would be at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix–depending on a Zoom interview on August 10. There’s an extended stay hotel with patient discounts on the medical campus that even allows pets. Maybe home every night or gone for weeks. We’ll know soon.

Faith and physicians; an excellent combination. It’s important to have faith in something. Something that superficially seems to be outside yourself but is also within oneself. Plus, trust in friends who share and support the profound connection between mind and body. Whether you place any faith in Buddhism or not—you can take this scientific truth: Stress elevates cortisol levels, which in turn diminish the immune system. Calm and relaxed confidence restores and elevates it. Happiness more so. The mind and my Buddhist practice are not sufficient; they’re just multipliers to the medical treatment.

Never Give Up

Where Have We Been?

Not on Views lately, but back for now.

Got home from Dublin, Ireland in May, this year. An anniversary trip set for 2020 came in 2022 instead. Pandemics happen. We had planned on Iceland, Norway and Northern Ireland in  celebration of our 40th. We’d visit ancestral beginnings, plus beautiful scenery. Game of Thrones filming sites too. Nordic venues were refunded. Couldn’t get refunds for Northern Ireland; it got rolled over–twice.

We were frustrated, but never gave up. It’s a faith thing with us. Buddhists see obstacles in daily life as opportunities. As COVID waned, we made new plans. We dropped Iceland and Norway, but added the Republic of Ireland. Brendan Vacations filled out a trip with additional stops.

Posts have been few and far between this year, with a collection of short stories dragging on interminably. Mental fatigue often hampers my creative process. Must be karma; my doctor has no explanation (it’s NOT Alzheimer’s). Nichiren, the founder of our Buddhist philosophy, says be the master of your mind–not the other way around. Still working on that. Meanwhile, manuscripts were sent to beta readers before leaving on the trip.

One more problem came up in March; my PSA score went way up. Prostate cancer runs in my family. We drove to Tucson in April, 200 miles from our home in New Mexico. I saw a top urologist on my 75th birthday. Probably cancer he said. Take the trip, and get tests afterward was his advice. We stayed for dinner and a movie. The Lost City was hilarious—a mix of romcom with suspense. An odd birthday.

I got an MRI three days after getting back from Ireland. The scan suggested a high likelihood of cancer, but the tumor hadn’t spread anywhere. A biopsy comes July on Thursday the 7th. Will it confirm malignancy?  If so, we expect more frequent driver miles to Tucson. If benign, not sure what’s next. We’re not worried–there’s our Buddhist practice to change this karma. Then there’s the advances in medicine since my father died in the 1950s and my brother’s prostate removal 24 years ago. He’s 92 now.

Enough of that; what about the trip?

We enjoyed our delayed anniversary trip without worries or thoughts about cancer. Smooth flying all the way. We were in Delta One class (international business) on the overnight flight to Dublin. The seats lie flat.  

Ireland is a leafy land of green  from north to south. Cities with plenty to see–more than what we could  do in the ten days we had signed up for. Quaint villages  with small shops painted in varied colors between one historic or special attractions or another. A very neat and clean country, with no littering in sight.  We chose a tour package that included a chauffeur. More freedom without bus group constraints–PLUS a personal guide

We stayed in plush hotels, had memorable meals and superior service. The experiences were unlike any we had ever had before. We have had some wonderful vacations over the years—this one was the best!

Day one, jet lag and all, we went to University of Dublin’s Trinity College—home to the Book of Kells and 200,000 ancient books in a two-story library. For a modest fee you get entry and headphones keyed to the items on exhibit. We wandered about Dublin for a bit. The nearby St. Stephens Green is an urban park with a pond, walking trail and various birds. We walked Grafton Street—home to international shops (we didn’t go inside; too pricey). But do try the Brooks Hotel if you wish to stay in boutique luxury in center city.

One of the exhibits at Trinity College

Day two, it was off to Newgrange in County Meath. Stooping and sidewise at times, we walked through a narrow passage into a 5,200 year-old tomb. It’s corbeled stone roof still doesn’t leak after 5,000 years! While we were there, grass atop the Neolithic dome was being trimmed by a remotely controlled mower. The structure is 43,500 square feet. No photos are allowed within, but you can see some on the website. By design, dawn’s light illuminates the back wall sixty feet from the box above the entry—but only on the Winter Solstice.

Here’s what it looks like from the outside. Note the spirals cut in the stone. The wintry light comes in above the corbel, which is five feet from the ground–duck your head to enter.

Newgrange Neolithic tomb passageway
Neolithic tomb entry

We moved on, up the Antrim Coast, crossing the gateless border into Northern Ireland. We stopped at the Winterfell (Game of Thrones) archery range to nock and loose a few arrows at more modern targets. We arrived in time for dinner at the Titanic Hotel Belfast at the historic harbor that launched the doomed ship. We spent two nights at this convenient and modern hotel.

Day Three, after a buffet breakfast at the hotel, we toured the spectacularly modern Ulster Museum. Six floors of an eclectic collection ranging of art, natural history, and much more. Do check out the website; you might enjoy visiting. Our feet got tired doing just a part of it. The institution includes a café with hot and packaged food, coffee or tea, etc. It even has a willow version of the Game of Thrones dragons, shown below.

Willow construction flying dragons hanging from the ceiling of the Ulster Museum
From the sixth floor of the museum

Back to the hotel, where a local guide joined us in a tour around town.  We learned more from her about the politics of the city than anything else. After dropping off our guide, our driver had his own perspective that differed from the “expert.” Is it politics or religion that divides the city? Probably a combination of both. Sinn Fein won the 2022 parliamentary election. Remains to be seen how it goes with the UK’s Brexit protocol. The Republic of Ireland remains in the EU and many in the North would prefer that as well.

We finished the day with a self-guided audio tour of the Titanic. The nine-story building covers the design, building and launch of the ship with mockups of the first class cabins and much more. Like the barefoot children who were among the workers at the turn of the 20th century. Belfast was a major shipbuilding port from the late 1800s into the early 20th century.

Day four found us on more visits to Game of Thrones filming locations. The places are known for much more than the series. We stopped first at The Dark Hedges, which served as the Kings Road, along which Arya Stark escaped Kings Landing dressed as a boy. Yes, a cool and drizzly day while at the Dark Hedges.

My wife and I on the Dark Hedges road on a drizzly day

In truth, the 17th century trees are a little disappointing today—perhaps a little less of them remain. Undoubtedly, the production process for television used replication and CGI to make it appear there were more of them and looking  darker than they are. Still, if you’re a GOT fan, how could you not walk the road between them?

While in County Antrim, we detoured to Ballymoney. That’s where my seventh great-grandfather was born about 1688. A blacksmith there and in Maine as well when he emigrated about 1730. A tiny museum located within in Ballymoney’s town hall had nothing on my blacksmith ancestor. Still a pleasant place to stop with lots of brochures and information on other areas.

Next stop–the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We marveled at the unique cylindrical stone slabs of basalt, raised by long ago vulcanism. Northern Ireland delights in regaling visitors with the mostly mythical Finn McCool. He is credited, variously, with:

  • Being a giant
  • Putting down the slabs to make bridge to Scotland
  • Throwing them in anger
  • Challenging or being challenged by a fellow giant from Scotland

The well-equipped visitor center explains it all—both McCool and scientifically. You must pre-book your visit; you can do so online (our tour company did this for us). Included is a handheld audio device keyed to stops along a paved path to the slabs. Of course, you will find some nice gifts for sale there. A cafeteria serves packaged food as well. Note: the trail is wheelchair accessible; additionally those in need of such can be transported by small buses to the primary locations.

A pile of Causeway slabs busy with people
None of them is us, but lots of brave–or bold people; dark slabs have recently been wet

We managed the long walk unaided, shedding hats and warmer wear as the trek heated us up. If you visit, do step carefully on the stones. Slippery when wet applies–especially near the shore where a slip into the ocean could be quite hazardous.

Woman sitting on a slab at the Giant's Causeway
That’s my wife atop stones of the Giant’s Causeway

From there, we backtracked to Ballintoy Harbor. There are ladders from water level that likely varies with the tide and provides tie-ups for boats. Around the corner from the narrow docking area  is the rocky coastline that you might easily recognize as the Iron Islands from Game of Thrones. Did Theon Greyjoy get dunked in his baptismal ritual here? Maybe they used a greenscreen pool instead.

Despite air temperatures in the mid sixties, we watched a middle-aged man toweling off after a dip in an undoubtedly colder Atlantic in early May. We compared notes with a visitor from nearby, who needed a break from the available trails. Had we been up to it, which we weren’t, we had no time for a hike along an uneven rocky path in any case.

The rocky coastline of Ballintoy
Can you see Theon Greyjoy?

We had dinner and spent the night at the Salthouse, a three-year-old resort on the northern Atlantic shore in Ballycastle—a very fine new place. The only hotel we actually chose from Brendan’s thick brochure. All good for the occasion.

We will save the remaining days for another post. For now, let’s add some backstory.

We chatted with Irish locals and fellow tourists as well as we passed through exhibits, or paused to shop or take a break. People at ease are open to conversation about life—and sometimes Buddhism. Our driver gave us a history of Irish locales we passed through. In turn, we discussed our lives as Buddhists in America, including my cancer and other health issues.

With age comes various illnesses. I take Eliquis to prevent a stroke from AFIB. I am chanting to end that problem. I haven’t had an episode of irregular heartbeat in twelve months. Like my deceased mother, I also have asthma. Dulera, a puffer keeps that away most of time. A CPAP machine controls sleep apnea. Mastery of the mind for writing is the main thing–after the prostate.

Practicing Nichiren Buddhism doesn’t mean a life without problems; it means they can be overcome or transcended. Chanting doesn’t eliminate the need for medicine or doctors—it helps find the best of both. But a great doctor isn’t enough, one must also be an excellent patient. Our mentor, Daisaku Ikeda, says this in Unlocking the Mysteries of Life and Death:

“Buddhism views illness as an opportunity to attain a higher, nobler state of life. It teaches that, instead of agonizing over a serious disease, or despairing of ever overcoming it, we should use illness as a means to build a strong, compassionate self, which in turn will make it possible for us to be truly victorious. This is what Nichiren meant when he stated, ‘Illness gives rise to the resolve to attain the way.’ “

Cancer is just one more thing; it doesn’t worry us. We will be truly victorious over it—and the mind as well. We must. Here’s what we still hope to get done this year:

  • At least ONE book–preferably two
  • Views posts in the coming weeks on–
    • The US Supreme Court has gone rogue—a legal analysis
    • Fathers Day—making the most of memories
    • Juneteenth and being Woke—yes, some reflections on political/historical reality
    • January 6, 2021—America’s insurrection continued through hearings and more
    • Importance of preventive screening—caught early, many cancers are not fatal
  • Fresh fiction and snippets of stories to come on Johns Writing too

BTW: If you do decide to fly Delta One and it’s on a wonderful Airbus 330-300, use the head pillow for your bottom and a neck pillow for your head. Or bring a smallish body pillow. The seats aren’t that soft for sleeping on. However, there are amazing controls for adjusting the seatback, footrest, and more. You can move the various components  forward/back/up/down.

© John Maberry