Archive | February, 2012

Something new under the sun

26 Feb

Since we bought the car off Jim, we’ve been having a great time driving around Ireland visiting our friends – but I realized I hadn’t actually posted a photo of the vehicle that has been hauling us around:

even in the city, the mileage is double our old car's

In case you are wondering, the house in back of the car is Gweedor in Kilkenny where we were this past weekend with Mary K and her kids (Chris was off on business so we kept the kids and Mary company).  Once again, the sun was out in the “Sunny Southwest” and I got a great shot of the house hovering over its sunken garden in the former rock quarry:

I can't wait until spring when this garden will really come back to life!

Our girls were eager and capable babysitters, and kept the Gibbons kids well entertained, which gave the two Marys a little more time to catch up with each other and hang out.

One of my favorite (favourite) moments was when Grace started reading books to baby Isabel…yes, Grace is now reading well enough that she felt confident enough to read to the little ones.  Amazing how fast they grow and learn.

Grace reads while Isabel does advanced calculations on the abacus

Kilkenny is such a great part of the country for tourists like us and this time we headed down to Bennettsbridge to tour the Nicholas Mosse Pottery factory.  It is set in an idyllic riverside setting in an old mill that was built by Monks on an ancient celtic river  crossing.  Apparently the monks diverted the river over a thousand years ago to tap into the hydro-power available from falling water – pretty cool.

still flowing after all these years

After the pottery tour, Mary K and my Mary took the little ones home for naps and my girls and I set out to explore the area without any guidance.  We took to stopping the car any time we saw something worth exploring…like this water pump on the side of the road in the countryside.

We also saw one of the famed “Ghost Estates” of Kilkenny. 

the ghosts of builders past

In the wake of the housing bust, there are thousands of half built houses all over Ireland and in Kilkenny alone there are reportedly over sixty unfinished housing developments that the locals call “Ghost Estates”. 

In this case, we were out in the countryside not really near anything of excitement when we drove around a corner and saw these six houses overlooking the rolling green hills.  These were well constructed and sealed from the elements with solid roofs and new high-efficiency windows but they were lacking lighting fixtures and finishes inside. 

I figured we could pick up all six and all the land around them for less than the price of a finished house.  I told the girls they could each have their own house and we could have all our friends and family come visit and everyone could stay in their own place.

houses for everyone!

Sort of strange to be here in this economic time – unbelievably high unemployment and vacant half-built houses everywhere.  I feel very lucky to have two jobs and so many fine houses to stay in.



25 Feb

After a week in the Burren, we capped off the girls’ school vacation by heading up to Westport, Co. Mayo for a visit to Mary’s cousin Fidelma, her husband and their two gorgeous children.  We also paid a visit to Mary’s father’s brother Ed who still lives there.

Arizona or Ireland?

Westport is one of the most beautiful towns in Ireland and it reminds me so much of Flagstaff Arizona.  In part this is because of the looming presence of an adjacent mountain of magical magnificence.  In the case of Westport, the mountain is called Croagh Patrick (pronounced “Crow” Patrick), and the tiny chapel on top was built by Saint Patrick who fasted at the top of this sacred Celtic site for forty days before casting all the snakes out of Ireland.   Yep, that’s right, this is the fabled spot. 

We stayed the night with Fidelma and Jeremy who live in a village outside of town called Murrisk directly at the base of “The Reek” which is what they call the mountain locally.   “Reek” is an anglicized version of an Irish word for “Stack” which is also what “Croagh” means…Patrick’s Stack.

the backyard..

Almost every window in their house looks out at the mountain like a picture painted on every wall.   It is an incredible location and I think how amazing it must have been for Jim Lyons to grow up here.  I think he would love Flagstaff Arizona too.

We explored the streets of downtown Westport and showed the girls the house where their Lyons family came from right in the center.  The cute little shop in the front has kept the building in great condition.  Mary tells me there was always a shop below and the family lived above.  There is a little alley around the side and the kids could play in the yard there in back. 

We also walked around the river that flows through the town and had the girls pose on the stairs that a toddling Jim Lyons fell down and into the river at the tender age of three while his sister turned her back for a split second. 

I can tell you with certainty, the stairs are very steep and hardly much more than a few inches wide each – I was terrified our own girls were going to fall in.   It was freezing cold and I certainly didn’t want to have to go in after them!

The other exciting thing we pointed out to the girls is that Westport looks out on Clew Bay and the 365 Islands there that include Clare Island where their Great Great Grandfather O’Malley came from bringing his pirate heritage with him to his bride from Inishturk Island who he met for the first time at the altar on his wedding day.  Things were different back then, but they got on well enough to have well over a dozen kids.  Yes, things were different back then.

See any pirates out there?

Do the Duagh

21 Feb

Last week when the girls were off school we spent the week up in the Burren. I was commuting back and forth to Limerick which is about an hour each way but it was absolutely worth it because the girls love the outdoor activities there and I love spending the evenings with them.

That said, one afternoon last week, Mary asked me to stop at the shop in Kinvarra on the way home and pick up a few bits. So I got off the bypass in Gort instead of in Crusheen like I usually do, and I headed over to Kinvarra directly instead of going my usual route through Tubber and Boston. Unfortunately, I got turned around in Gort and got delayed there. Then I got turned around again along the way through the countryside to Kinvarra. I was marginally lost, getting later, and very very grumpy about it when I found myself passing an astounding old ruin. I stopped the car and got out.

Mary and I had passed it accidentally once before but I couldn’t have found my way there directly if I’d tried. It is an old Abbey called Kilmacduagh. Remember my Irish lessons: “kill” means “church”, “Mac” means “son of” and…well… Duagh, must be someone. So when I drove past this place a second time accidentally, I knew I had to get out and walk around. It completely changed my mood. I was calm, un-grumpy, and once again thrilled to be living in a country where things like this place exist.

A quick trip to trusty Wikipedia tells me that Duagh was an old Irish Cheiftain and his son became Saint Colman (“Mac Duagh”) and founded that monastary in the early 600s.

I also learned a couple of things about the monastary from the locals that aren’t on Wikipedia either because they aren’t deemed true enough or becuase they are just too local to have made it there. Firstly, although Wikipedia does mention the similarity between the lean of Macdugh’s tower and the other leaning one in Italy, Wikipedia only says that Macduagh’s tower is twice as old as Pisa’s, while the locals tell me that the Irish tower is lean-ier (is there a word for “leaning more”). Secondly, I am also told that this particular round tower is the most complete and best preserved example of such towers in all of Ireland – at over 112 feet tall, it seems pretty remarkable that this structure has lasted so long.

just a little to the left....

I’m getting ‘Well’ known

20 Feb

My mild fascination with Holy Wells in Ireland has apparently become public knowledge these days: while we were in Liscannor, Grainne and Mary were very eager to show me Bridget’s Well which is right near Grainne’s house. 

What intrigues me about Holy Wells here is the history of the Christian tradition and how the ancient, pre-Christian elements are so barely obscured by Christianity, and the Catholic traditions themselves barely cover up the early pre-dark-ages Christianity that landed here and flourished before Rome got ahold of everything.  

The Holy Wells seem to me to be a physical representation of these layers of religous thought and I enjoy exploring them both physically and ideologically.

Oddly enough, even though the well is right on a main road, the tour buses full of tourists heading up to the Cliffs of Moher (the Vice-President of China just visited there today) don’t stop at it.  The few parking spaces for Bridget’s Well are most often empty.  Apparently it’s mostly the locals and the devout that bother to visit. 

A local girl stands in the doorway of the grotto at Bridget's Well

A lot of people do seem to visit Bridget’s Well since the grotto is full of votives and photos and prayers and evidence of people’s miraculous healings.   There is a great entry on Wikipedia about the well and how Saint Bridget evolved from a pre-Christian Celtic goddess called Brigid who had two sisters also named Brigid in a sort of pre-Christian female Trinity.

Wherever Bridget came from, the well is pretty seriously  intense and although the sound of the water flowing is rather serene, I still found the grotto a little spooky. 


But if the inside of the grotto is a little spooky, the “Sleeping Beauty”-style glass-enclosed statue of Bridget herself is most certainly creep-inducing. 

But while we were there, the sun was going down and the view of the ocean with the sunset over it was so stunning that I found myself climbing up behind Bridget to get a picture of her looking out at the last light of day.

Nice view Breege.

Definitely the best holy well I’ve seen in Ireland so far.


19 Feb

So the girls had this past week off school for some kind of Winter Break. The break started with Mary and Grainne taking all the kids to Grainne’s place in Liscannor.
Liscannor is the next town up the coast from Lahinch toward “The Cliffs of Moher”. Lahinch has a golf course that is Ireland’s version of Pebble Beach. Actually, scratch that…Pebble Beach is like America’s version of the golf course at Lahinch.
I tell you about Lahinch because it is a gorgeous Coastal resort with epic world-class golf that people travel to from all over the world.
Liscannor is the town next door which is one step more posh – who wants to live on the 17 mile drive anyway?

apparently there's a rabbit sanctuary in the field below

I drove down from Dublin Sunday morning after the Irish Chamber Orchestra concert and met up with the gang. The house is beautifully set on the outskirts of the town amongst rolling green fields that give way to the steel coolness of the Atlantic Ocean.
The place is rather newly built, and you can see from the photo above that the design from the outside fits well within the constraints of the surrounding typical Irish houses. From the inside however it has all the right sensibilities of a contemporary Coastal home and the girls were well settled into vacation mode by the time I arrived.

It was afternoon by the time I arrived, and the sun was low in the sky – actually, at this latitude in the winter the sun is always low in the sky, even at noon – but the key point is that it was a gaaaargeous sunny afternoon.

Not wanting to waste a minute of the beautiful day I set out to take the short walk to the beach and gather as many of the kids along as wanted to join.
I found Cayla and Grace down at the bottom of the field trying to lure rabbits out of their homes.

hard to get them both in the same frame...

The three of us set off for the beach and it was so pretty outside I kept trying to get a nice picture of the girls amidst the scenic rural beauty. But they were so full of energy, like little colts, that I could hardly get the two of them into the same frame with the camera.

They were so happy to be free that even walking they were moving at a jogger’s pace. Their distance ahead of me did give me the chance to capture this picture of them in the afternoon glow walking down the road to the beach.

I finally caught up with the girls at the beach where they had the decency to wait for me before charging off into the low tide looking for periwinkles amd other collectable lifeforms in the resulting pools.

Liscannor is a couple of kilometres from the Cliffs of Moher and when the hills rise off the beach here you can see the start of the kind of terrain that evolves into the cliffs around the other side of the hill.

I honestly don’t think the girls noticed the scenery since they were so intent on finding shiny shells and objects of interest in the sand and stone shoreline. At least I got a few photos to jog their memories later.

A couple days later, I noticed Grace with her hand in her pocket fidgeting around with something and I said “What’ve you got in your pocket” thinking it must be some candy or some such contraband. She pulled out the most amazing collection of tiny yellow and purple shells.

Working stiff

13 Feb

Last week marked the first week since I came to Ireland that I was working full time, five days a week. Actually, I worked six days last week, or more exactly five days and two nights.

If you’ve been following the blog, you may remember that I’ve been working two days a week for the Irish Chamber Orchestra since November. Last week I started on three days a week with a consultancy as a project manager on a very exciting and challenging project.

While it is always a complete buzz jumping into a big complex project while it’s already rolling, the big excitement last week was the ICO performing the world premiere of a new symphony by one of Ireland’s most distinguished composers, John Kinsella.

scenes from the delivery room...

The picture is a little blurry because the light wasn’t good, but the amazing Hungarian conductor Gabor Takacs-Nagy (pronounced TOKE-osh nazh) came down from the stage after the concert and shook hands with the composer while the orchestra gave him an ovation.

The piece was dramatic and powerful and full of fascinating rhythms and tones power and grace and disguise and serenity. The audience seemed to respond well and the orchestra clearly enjoyed playing the piece.

Talking with the composer afterwards was amazing – hearing him talk about what it is like to hear for the first time an orchestra play his creation live. The interaction that followed over the next days was beautiful with Kinsella and the orchestra clarifying and refining the performance for the concert in Dublin two nights later.

I got a great photo of John at the RDS concert hall in Dublin before the show listening in from the wings as the orchestra rehearsed. Just a nice moment before the audience filled the house.

After the show, the audience stood up for so long I thought poor 80 year old John wasn’t going to make it.

It’s really uplifting to work in an environment surrounded by people who are passionate about doing what they love. I enjoy it enough to haul myself around up and back to Dublin while the girls headed out to the coast to Grainne’s place in Liscannor for the weekend. I joined them on Sunday after the show, but that’s another post.

In any case, we got a great review from the Irish Times and part of what made it great is that the same writer in January had listed the Orchestra as one of the “lows” from his “Highs and Lows” of 2011…ouch.  You have to read past the first half where the writer trashes the RTE National Symphony Orchestra (our main competition).  Anyway, here’s the review: read the article…

Sixteen Again

9 Feb

Here’s a funny thing about the Irish governement, (frankly I’m pretty sure it is universal and not limited to the Irish), one department obviously has no clue what the others are doing.  In this particular instance of Governmental non-communication, there is an interesting gap between the laws concerning driving in Ireland and the process of becoming  licensed to drive.

When I first attempted navigating the exciting curves of Irish country roads, I wanted to do so legally, and I found out that my California Driver’s License was valid here for up to a year after my arrival. 

I thought “Great, I can drive legally here.” but I also thought  “What happens if I am here longer than a year? Shouldn’t I get myself an Irish license?”

When I lived in Massachussetts, I got myself a MASS driver’s license and all it involved was going down to the licensing authority and filling out information about my existing California license and they just gave me one.  Simple as that.  I guess they figured that if I could drive in California, I could probably manage to drive in Massachussetts.   So with the Irish laws allowing me to drive legally on my California license here,I was betting there would be some system by which I could trade it in or leverage it somehow to get myself an Irish license. 

Not quite.  In fact, my CA license may be good enough to get me on the road here, but it’s not worth anything toward getting me an Irish license.  I had to start at the beginning for that.  Which means passing a written test, getting a learner permit, taking driving lessons, waiting six months and then undergoing an in-car practical driving test. 

So I got the process going and I passed the written test, filled in the appropriate paperwork and three weeks later I get the following in the mail:

I know I look angry in the picture, but really I think I was just wondering what trouble the girls were up to in the shopping center outside the photo booth. 

The funniest thing about my having this learner permit is that I’m supposed to put these large red “L” signs in the front and back window of the car when I’m driving and I’m not allowed to drive alone in the car, and I can’t go onto the freeway (which they call the Motor way, or the Dual Carriageway or “The Bypass”) which is how I get to work everyday…legally….on my California license.

So I’m pretending that I don’t have the learner permit and if I get pulled over I’ll show them my California license and say something like “Is your family name Riordan my great-great-grandfather was a Riordan and I’m looking for my ancestors do you know any Riordans around here you could be my cousin or something wouldn’t that be funny like y’know” and the Garda (which is what they call the cops around here) will roll his eyes and hand me my license and say something like “piss off yank” or “”drive on the left side now” or ” jaysus my great great granduncle Riordan left here fer ‘merica” or something like that.

In any case, I have another six months before you’ll hear about me taking the practical test.

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