Piracy Pays

We spent an extra night in Drogheda due to the predicted arrival of Tropical Storm Callum which we hoped would just blow on through. But, on Saturday Callum was still with us so we decided to head west and leave the rain behind. Fat chance of that as we had rain all the way across Ireland. Our path took us south on the M1 to Dublin’s “ring road” M50, and west on the M4/M6/M5, to the Mayo city of Westport. 

We were delighted to arrive (after three loops through Westport’s “An Lar” or town center) at the Hazelbrook B&B. The proprietor John greeted us by name and made us feel at home. Worn out from our 5-hour drive we dumped our bags and headed out the door on foot to explore the lovely town of Westport. 

In the morning we had John’s delicious “Full Irish” breakfast of eggs, bacon rashers, sausages, baked beans, tomato, black and white “puddings”, brown soda bread, toast, juicethe grounds are what snatch your breath , and fruit (cereal optional) accompanied by a gorgeous view of Croagh Patrick mountain. John kindly drew out a walking map of the town for us. So we set off down the road (and Lordy, Irish roads, in addition to going the wrong direction, are narrow and busy).

The walk’s highlight was Westport House. Normally we might yawn and say, “Another wealthy aristocratic pile” but this was very different. Westport House is the ancestral home of the “Pirate Queen” Grace O’Malley/Grainne Ni Mhaille. The house is grand but the grounds are spectacular. Acres of green velvet lawn dotted with sheep, a lake and a river flowing out to the sea, and forestland. 

Direct descendants of Grainne still live in the house—piracy’s rewards,

Sláinte. Slán go fóill!

Are you enjoying these posts? — Go here to see more pictures and read our blog posts from two previous visits to Ireland and Scotland, in 2013 and 2016.(http://kandmindublin.blogspot.com/) 


A Series of Fortunate Events

Travel around this island nation reveals many beautiful sights and historic features, from 5000-year-old tombs to modern signs of the struggle for independence. An even more wonderful experience, though, is to meet the Irish people.

The real treasure of Ireland is its people. 

In our rambles around Drogheda we stumbled across the local Labour Party headquarters. In the window was a wonderful, humorous poster of Michael D Higgins, the current president of Ireland, who is running for a second term. We heard a moving speech by Michael D while attending the celebration of the Easter Rising two and a half years ago. We became supporters of Michael D that day.

Labor Party poster: “Re-elect Michael D as an Uachtaran [President of Ireland]”

Note: Ireland separates the roles of head of government (an Taoiseach), deputy head of government (an Tanaiste) and head of state (an Uachtaran).

As we debated going inside to see if we could buy a poster the door was thrown open by a worker welcoming us. He had seen us clustered around the window and offered us a poster. Wow! Score! After an interesting conversation with him the next step was how do we get the poster home unscathed. So, we set off to buy supplies to mail it home. The best part of an hour or two was spent procuring 2 small tubes we could tape together, parcel paper and tape.

Next we decided to head to the TI (Tourist Information) to find a counter to work on. The two women sitting at desks in the TI, Caroline and Carolan, graciously offered to clear one of their desk tops for us to work on and supplied scissors for the job. As we worked in fashioning a mailing tube our conversation ranged over the local, rich history, current politics, the Irish language and, of course, the weather.

Even with the poster safely packed we continued our conversation. When our two new friends heard that we both claim Irish heritage they insisted we buy some Halloween brac saying it was in our blood. So we headed to the Tesco across the street and bought some Halloween brac. Brac is a raisin bread and a seasonal Samhain treat. 

The next morning at breakfast we cut into the brac. Delicious. On my second piece I discovered a small wax paper wrapped package. It contained a golden ring. The prize! 

The ring is now a treasured possession reminding me of my Irish roots and the warm-hearted, fun-loving people it has been a privileged to meet and talk with.

Slainte! Slan go foill!

Great Grandfather’s Childhood Home

The lovely town of Drogheda has been mentioned in the lore of the Irish branch of Clan Obendorfer as the childhood home of our great grandfather Henry Wilson. He wasn’t a resident for too many years as we have documents indicating he enlisted in the British army at age 13.

Drogheda has many centuries of history. The nearby Cistercian abbey was the first in Ireland. Before the Christians, ancient peoples lived, farmed and built monuments predating the Egyptian pyramids (see Newgrange and Knowth post). Oliver Cromwell trampled the area. The Battle of the Boyne was fought in 1690 between James II and Prince William of Orange establishing Protestant rural of the region.

Sláinte. Slán go fóill!


Are you enjoying these posts? — Go here to see more pictures and read our blog posts from two previous visits to Ireland and Scotland, in 2013 and 2016.


A Brief Apology

To all our readers… your views and kind and thoughtful (and funny) comments really help to keep Kate and me energized for this long trip and for writing these posts. Thank you!

I did not realize until this morning that we had to “approve” each of your comments for them to appear on the blog. I thought WordPress was just trying to sell us more features (a WordPress blog like ours is totally free). So I apologize for not approving comments timely. But they’re all up on the blog now and I’ll approve new ones quickly, so keep your remarks and questions rolling in!

Blackberries at Knowth

The Bru na Boinne archaeological site lies about 50 miles north of Dublin, in the Boyne River Valley and next to Ireland’s largest town, Drogheda. We thought that could not be right but have since learned the Irish make a clear distinction between town and city. Dublin, of course, being the largest city. The Boyne Valley contains several dozen ancient burial mounds and the ruling seat of Irish kings, the Hill of Tara.

While Tara today is little more than a smooth grassy hill, Bru na Boinne comprises three huge “passage graves,” named Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth. The best known of these is Newgrange, which was rediscovered in the 1960s after millennia of ‘hiding in plain sight’ and explored and restored in 1962-1975. Visitors on guided tours can traverse a narrow path to the central chamber to see various features and experience total darkness. Guides, using a flashlight in the pitch black interior simulate the sight the ancient people at Newgrange saw at sunrise on the Winter Solstice.

Larger but less-known Knowth has two inner chambers and is surrounded by a dozen small passage graves and “kerbstones” decorated with pictographs.

Dowth is the least explored site and is rarely open for public tours.

We were blessed with a gorgeous sunny day for our explorations of Newgrange and Knowth. The sun shining on the quartz-lined walls of Newgrange was spectacular.

The entrance to Newgrange passage grave is the lower dark hole. At the Winter Solstice light from the rising sun shines through the upper hole and illuminates the passage all the way to its central chamber.

Massive “kerbstones” surround much of the Newgrange mound, which occupies an acre.

More Newgrange features and surrounding Boyne Valley countryside.

Below are views of Knowth.

The 1 1/2 acre bulk of Knowth passage grave. This grave has east- and west-facing passages aligned to indicate the arrival of the spring and autumn equinoxes. Knowth’s sides are lined with 52 kerbstones, most of which contain megalithic pictograph art.

All four of us agreed that Knowth is truly magical. We were fortunate to be the only four on the 1:45pm tour of Knowth. Our guide, Jackie, gave us a brief history and answered our questions then turned us loose to explore on our own. Unbelievable!

Jackie is a local and her love, enthusiasm, and appreciation of Knowth fired our imaginations too.

Even magic eventually comes to and end so we boarded the bus to return to the Visitor’s Center. Another local, Callum, greeted us as we boarded the bus with freshly picked blackberries to enjoy on the drive back while he described his childhood playing cowboys and Indians on the mounds of Knowth.

Slán go fóill!


Are you enjoying these posts? — Go here to see more pictures and read our blog posts from two previous visits to Ireland and Scotland, in 2013 and 2016.


Northern Comfort

For our 2013 travels around Ireland we rented a very nice but all-too-new smaller Peugot which we promptly nicknamed Pepper (see our 2013 blog post “A New Shoe for Pepper.)
For this trip we rented, with help from Hamill’s of Mullingar, a Mazda big enough for four. What seems appropriate is to rechristen Pepper as Piobar (Irish for pepper) and to name the new ride Sal (Irish for salt.) Piobar agus sal–All for one and one for all!

We drive out of Dublin in reasonable style (although a small navigation error takes us down Dublin’s main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street) and we head north. Once on the M1 motorway we settle in for the trip to the town of Ballymena, Northern Ireland, which sister-in-law, Carrie, has pinpointed as the area where her ancestors lived and worked (in the linen mills) and were buried in the tiny nearby village of Cullybacky’s church cemetery.

The name Ballymena has a quaint and bucolic ring to it. The town is certainly beautiful and the surrounding countryside is bucolic but Ballymena is anything but quaint. Traffic and the many local roundabouts (traffic circles) are nightmarish for newbie drivers already coping with left-side-of-the-road driving. We circle the block three times at one point to get headed in the right direction. Traffic seems to be coming from all directions at once and the traffic lights are utterly baffling. At one point we are behind a red stop light in conjunction with a green arrow telling us to go straight ahead. What to do? Stop? Go? We choose Go and make it through the intersection unscathed.

We feel victorious–a little too soon–as we shoot by the entrance to the inn where we are supposed to stay. We have to turn around and make a dreaded right turn across busy traffic into the inn’s narrow driveway. With three of us watching traffic and Mike at the helm we finally get a window to make the turn.

Driving up the tree-lined lane our shoulders relax. We get our first view of the Oranmore–a beautiful manor that was once the hunting lodge of a wealthy Northern Irish family.

The Oranmore’s proprietress kindly welcomes these shell-shocked travelers and sits us down in front of a warm fire with glasses of wine. Heaven at last!

The innkeeper, Gerald, his wife Fiona, and their family have lovingly restored the main house and converted the stables into guest rooms, one of which Mike and I rent for the next three days. Scrumptious breakfasts, delicious dinners, lovely surroundings. What a find!

The Oranmore becomes our home base as we explore Carrie’s family roots, the Bushmill’s Distillery, and the Giant’s Causeway up on the Antrim Coast, the edge of the North Sea. More on those adventures to follow.

Dublin on Foot

With close to 10,000 steps for the day already counted our feet were tired and we needed a place to sit and rest. Checking our map we saw that Merrion Square (a lovely park in central Dublin) was a couple of blocks away.

Ah, relief in sight! Turning into the gates of the park we spotted on unoccupied bench. Unbelievable! Dubliners use their parks and benches are almost always fully loaded. Dead tired, we quickened our pace to try to beat any quick, fleet-footed natives from grabbing the bench.

With a last spurt of energy we made it! No rivals! Then we saw why it was empty – a couple of the wooden seat slats were missing.

So, we found a wall to sit on and watched a flock of magpies raid the trash bin and carry their culinary treasures to the bench. Bon appétit!

Slán go fóill!


Are you enjoying these posts? — Go here to see more pictures and read our blog posts from two previous visits to Ireland and Scotland, in 2013 and 2016.