Archive | March, 2012

Take me home country road…

30 Mar

So we’re moving into our own house today.  Actually, we’ve already moved, it’s just that I was at work when Mary did all the moving.  But today when I head home, I will head out the Shanaway Road instead of the QuinRoad.

It is a smaller transition than the one that we went through when we came to Ireland last fall, but I’m a little surprised by how much I’m going to miss living on the Quin Road.

One thing in particular I’ll miss is driving The Bog Road every day.  At first it took some getting used to.  Figuring out the one-lane/two direction protocols like who pulls in when and where.  It also took some inward facing self-reflection for me to determine what kind of a fingerlift I was comfortable with.


If you have ever driven on a road like The Bog Road in Ireland, you will be familiar with the fingerlift that every driver must salute each other with as they slowly slip past.   Some people will raise all five fingers, like a wave, while keeping only their thumb under the wheel to steer. Others will only raise their first finger a tiny, barely perceptable amount – jerks.

For my part, I decided on a “one-and-a-half-finger” fingerlift so that the first finger is clearly lifted but it doesn’t look like I’m pointing at the other driver. Actually, I’m thinking I might have cribbed my fingerlift from God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.


Holy fingerlift or not, I’ll certainly miss driving in and out on The Bog Road every evening.  That and all the laughing I did with Mary’s parents.

But there’ll be new adventures to have over on the west side. Here’s what it looks like out the backyard at dusk.

there's a holy well in them thar fields

I’ll post more about the house after we move in.


“Forgive me father….”

27 Mar

So while her sister was playing violin in the tomb of aviation history (Shannon Airport), Grace was in church with the other kids who would be participating in the upcoming “Sacrament of Holy Communion”.

She was, in fact, confessing her sins for the first time…The Sacrament of Penance. I know we’re not supposed to laugh about it, what with it being holy and all, but the kids had to figure out what sin was before they could confess to any.

Grace came home from school and entertained us no end with what the other children in her class wanted to confess. We felt a little sorry for the fellow that planned on confessing that he had tripped on a doormat. One would wonder how that could be classified as sinful, but let’s not judge. The other one that made us laugh was the guy whose sin was that he had discovered a unicorn but hadn’t told anyone. Mary pointed out that his “sin” was a sin itself being a complete and utter lie.

For her part, Grace actually seemed to get the idea: she confessed that she had broken a glass at Babu’s house and blamed it on Tara. All at once plausible and just sinful enough to qualify her for a couple of decats of the rosary. Well done Grace.

Anyway, this is what the Penitants looked like on the day:

The Pirates of Penance

Ode to Shannon

24 Mar

One great thing about the School the girls go to here is that a phenomenally energetic and devoted woman named Cathy Desmond runs a music program there for the children. Recently she organized for them to give a concert at Shannon Airport. The sheer amount of kids there was astounding – and a tribute to all her hard work.

I drove to the airport on my lunch break to see the show and I was late and in a hurry when I had to slow down to thread my way through a gaggle of scruffy protesters who were demonstrating against the U.S. military’s use of Shannon airport as a refueling and logistical hub for soldiers on their way in and out of various combat deployments around the world.

It’s true that the U.S. military does have a large presence at the Shannon Airport. In fact, every time we’ve flown in and out it seems like we run into American soldiers on the way in or out of the states. If you talk to them you will be amazed at what they are giving up to do what they are doing. No matter your politics, your heart will go out to these young men and women and wish them the very best of luck and safety whatever their missions.

Below is a picture of Grace on one of our trips chatting with some soldiers in Shannon in the bar where the Irish Coffee was invented before it’s importation to the Buena Vista Bar in San Francisco from whence it swept the U.S. with it’s astounding popularity.

I remember one of these soldiers asked me how old Grace was and I told him she was just under three. His eyes got a bit moist as he told me that his daughter was the same age and he hadn’t seen her in two years. He was on his way home and I couldn’t imagine having missed all those moments with my own little girl.

But Shannon is different now. There are less and less military flights through here because the U.S. military is doing less and less abroad. On the other hand, most passenger airlines have been hit hard by the recession and almost all have stopped flying out of Shannon in favor of consolidating operations in Dublin.

The airport today is a ghost of its former self, the terminal is quiet, the parking lots are nearly empty and the cavernous departure hall had so little going on that the they let the kids take up the whole place in the middle of the day for a concert. The airport manager introduced the little musicians and pleaded to the parents to fly out of Shannon on their next trip if they had a choice.

Fairly ironic I thought that the protesters outside who were probably there during the workday becuase they didn’t have jobs were protesting the only customer left keeping the airport and the countless airline industry workers employed. After the military leaves Shannon, there will be more out-of-work people to join the demonstration, but they’ll have find a different place to go.

In the meantime, the kids had a blast playing and won’t have thought about the greater significance of why they were allowed to fill such a huge empty space.

I’ll be sad if they close the airport completely because so much history has taken place there, both globally and personally.

Life is a Circus

20 Mar

Mary’s Grandfather said “always support the local circus, it’s a hard life and they deserve every cent they can get”.  Last week we had the chance to put this principal to the test.

As we drove the girls home from school past the Clare Marts (where we are accustomed to letting Grace pretend to bid on livestock) we saw the telltale signs of the imminent arrival of the circus: the trucks, the trailers, the animals, and the industrious circus workers raising a big top from a bare lot.

The circus is Tom Duffy’s Circus and it’s a home-grown act that has been around for a while.  One of the girls in my office said “oh, I remember Tom Duffy’s Circus from when I was a kid.”

We went on opening night which was great for several reasons.  firstly, it was opening night.  Secondly, it was a reduced price to get people in the door.  Thirdly, the Mayor of Ennis was there – Frankie Neylon – who you may remember from the “Share the Feeling” Chrismas video…he was the one that answered Santa’s call for help at the beginning.

Inside the Big-Top they have a sort of cage in place around the ring that reminded me of the Mad Max Thunderdome movie and it was clear that there was a  serious chance that one of the large “trained” cats might be an actual threat.

It proved to be a good thing the cage was in place when one of the various Lions actually did run around the ring a couple times in spite of the tranier’s attempts to get him to sit on one of the little seats.  I was hoping he didn’t inspire the other cats who were sitting nicely on their stools.   It felt like they were a hair’s breadth from mayhem in there and I was thinking about how I would cover the eyes of both girls at the same time.

"The Celtic Tiger" seriously, his name is "Thadg the Celtic Tiger!

In the end, the tigers and lions behaved themselves, jumped from platform to platform and through hoops and licked the traniers faces and all that good stuff.  But I was a little worried about that one bold tiger because the trainer didn’t look too happy about him and I had a feeling he might later regret running around the ring those few extra times.

I suppose part of the excitement of the circus is that feeling like danger lurks at every turn.  This was nowhere more evident than the Bareback Horseriding of the young Duffy boys.  The sign on the tent says “Tom Duffy’s Circus” and the ringmaster’s name is David Duffy , and he introduces the bareback riding team as brothers David Duffy Junior and some other Duffy.   Clearly this circus is a generational family business.

The ring itself is probably between 30 and 40 feet in diameter and as the horse trots around the smallish circle, the boys are jumping on and off him, over him, under him and all sorts of acrobatics but it doesn’t get scary until they start doing the tricks while standing on the horse’s back.

David Duffy comes into the ring and is in charge of making sure the horse maintains a steady and slow pace around the ring so David Duffy Jr. can do a flip while standing on the horse’s back and land on the horse when he comes down.  If the horse doesn’t keep the same pace, David Jr. will land on the ground or the bench or one of the punters in the front row.  The kid looks terrified.  He is the youngest and you can see that he is trying the hardest of all the brothers to impress Dad with his crazy-ass tricks.  He missed a couple of times (one or two of which may have been for dramatic effect, but the last misses looked like genuine tries).  He never really landed this flip properly at all – the last time he kind of touched down offcenter on the horse and leaped off onto the edge of the ring, a good recovery but certainly not the intended outcome.  I think the audience was half expecting to see the ambulance end this act.

There were a number of other semi-exotic animal acts including the jumping zebra with the Llama assistants, but don’t think that because they didn’t have elephants this wasn’t a world class operation – there were Chinese acrobats that were quite impressive and Russian trapeze artists and the requisite erotic-rope-dangling-contortion act which made you wonder if this circus was really a G or PG rated act and whether maybe now was a good time to get the kids some snacks.

What really got me though was the way everyone was doing everything: the guy collecting tickets was later up on the trapeze, the acrobats were pulling tarps onto the ring for the animal acts, the animal trainers were coming back as clowns, the Duffy boys showed up in about half of the acts doing something and everyone was pulling triple or quadruple duty outside their own speciality.

Liana and Davide - acrobats, clowns, ticket-takers, animal feeders and much much more.

It almost broke my heart when between acts I noticed a couple of the acrobats standing in the shadows next to the big heater blowing air into the tent and warming their hands.  I thought how bloody cold it was and how I was sure the heater didn’t get turned on until showtime and these guys were out in the freezing rain all day setting up the tents and at the end of the night all they had was a thin little trailer parked in the mud of the cattle market.

Tough tough life, incredibly hard work, and I was glad we went to support them.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig – Saint Patrick’s Day

17 Mar

I had a busy week and I have about three half written posts to finish up, but I’m going to preempt them because it’s Saint Patrick’s Day and we’re in Ireland  so I need to tell you about it.

Firstly, we had to drop Grace off at “Area 9” in front of the courthouse to convene with the rest of the group from the Ennis National School who she would be marching with.  “Area 9” sounded like a place you would find aliens, and when we got there it met our expectations: lots of antennas and glitter and green lace tutus.

Everyone was dressed for the occasion and Grace’s friends were supposed to represent the countries their families came from. Grace was representing with the stars and stripes in an outfit Mary and I painted latenight the night before.

After dropping Grace at the courthouse, we set about finding a parking space which was as difficult as it would have been in San Francisco before a parade.  Fortunately, Mary knew of a secret little street behind the houses on Steele’s Terrace where she had bought her first house many many years ago. 

Steele’s terrace is named after Tom Steele who was a protestant landowner in the 1800 who was a friend of Daniel O’Connell and a major supporter of Irish independence.  He was also a hopeless romantic (and possibly one of the earliest documented stalkers) who fell in love with a girl who lived in a house overlooking the river Fergus that runs through Ennis.  Tom Steele used to sit on a rock on the river bank and watch for her in her window for years and his love was unrequited.  The rock he sat on is now a landmark called Steele’s Rock and this is the view of the town from there:

You can see all the people walking across the bridge and starting to line the streeets in preparation for the parade.  The narrow streets of Ennis were getting narrower by the minute.  We walked to O’Connell Square to get a coffee from the only place that seemed to be open in the whole town.  Here’s a view looking down O’Connell St. with the spire of the Cathedral in the background.

We got our coffees and took up our own position by the side of the road and waited for the inevitable arrival of St. Patrick and the flood of people and vintage cars and sports teams and various sundry groups that marched in the parade.

The town was quite literally full of people (see below photo).  The buzz of the parade was intensified by the tiny width of the streets.

Eventually, the Ennis National School group came along and I managed to get a few seconds of video of their approach.  If you have never heard anyone speaking Irish, you should listen to the guy with the megaphone because that’s Irish he’s speaking and I have no idea what he’s saying but I suspect it is the same as what he says in English right afterwards.

The red and white stripes on Grace’s shirt gave us our own little real-life “Where’s Waldo” moment trying to pick her out of the crowd.  Over here they call the “Where’s Waldo” books “Where’s Wally” which is strange to me because both of those names are equally unusual in my opinion and I don’t think “Waldo” is somehow offensive or foreign to the Irish, but who knows.  Anyway…

Besides Grace, my favorite group marching in the parade were a bunch of old ladies walking with baskets of Turf and signs claiming that they were “The Last Turf Cutters”.  If you are not Irish, you may not know about cutting turf.  But as a foreigner, this is one of my favourite natural things about Ireland.  You can dig up the ground, dry it out and it burns in the fire like a Presto Log but smells better. 

The “turf” in question is the result of thousands of years of Peat bog growing and settling in on itself to create a compacted burnable substance that looks like clay mud when it’s wet but dries out and burns long and hot in the fire.  Cutting bricks of it out of the bog is a practice that has fallen by the wayside with the presence of more easily obtained and more renewable resources.  But the burning of turf is still quite common although less and less so.  Actually, there are a couple of bricks of the stuff on the fire I’m sitting in front of right now as I type this.  In any case, the little old ladies marching with the turf in the parade might actually be the last turf cutters.

It was a great day of partial sun and I got the below picture of the Parade marching past the Queens Hotel.  If you were around when we got married, you will likely have several memorable stories that occurred here.  You will also likely have several other stories which you won’t remember but other people will, and you will wish they wouldn’t.  But as it turned out, Grainne rang during the parade and she and her gang were in the restaurant there watching the parade through the windows while enjoying refreshments.

So we moved inside and and watched the end of the parade from the comfort of our window seats with hot chocolates and chips….and Guinness.

When the parade was over, the kids got burgers in the outdoor bar of the Queens nightclub.  Us parents had a weird flash back/flash forward remembering/projecting the times we had/they would have in this very bar.

All in all a very fine day for our first Saint Patrick’s Day in Pat’s own homeland.

Somewhere in Time

11 Mar

This morning I had a moment straight out of the movie “Somewhere in Time”.  I don’t know if you ever saw the movie, but Christopher Reeves falls in love with a girl from the past and figures out how to travel backwards in time to pursue her.  This is one of my all time favorite movies and is probably partly responsible for my core belief that if you want something enough, you can make it happen.  That’s pretty much how Reeves travels back in time: he simply believes it so much that he actually changes his reality.

photo from "somewhere on the web"

(spoiler alert) After Reeves arrives back in time and wins the heart of his true love, he sees a penny that has fallen from his pocket that dates from the 1970’s.  The shock of this time disjunction sends him spinning back to the 1970’s where he came from.

This morning I found a US penny on the floor in my bedroom.   At first I thought it was a €.02 coin, and it was only when I picked it up that I had that wierd jolt of Somewhere in Time feeling like I was rushing back over the thousands of miles to the US with the strange and unexpected presence of the coin that at first seemed so strange but then reminded me of all the times that it hadn’t seemed strange to see a simple penny on the floor (here is the aforementioned penny pictured below next to the Euro version of it)

only slightly larger, but three times more valuable...

But the truth is that as well esconced and adjusted as we are to the culture and lifestyle here, there are still major moments of disconnect where it becomes clear that we are not “from” here.  This was well illustrated last week when we went to mass.

I don’t want this blog to be all about my observations of Irish Catholicism, but seriously, there are so many things about it that I find unusual.  Maybe it’s just because I”m not used to going to mass all the time, but I really don’t ever remember seeing all the staues in a church shrouded in purple cloths before.

Apparently this is a traditional thing that I just wasn’t familiar with since the US bishops decided not to do it anymore 38 years ago when I was just a toddler.  The shrouds are supposed to be about how just before they crucified Christ he hid himself from the people until it was his time to die.  So all evidence of the divinityof Christ is hidden in the church until…well…I’m not sure when we get to see the stuff again – probably right around Easter.

But no matter what the reasoning is, it is totally freaky to see all these purple shrouds all over the church.  Even my patron Saint Imy was all covered up. 

And if all the shrouds weren’t weird enough, we sit down and the whole mass is in Irish.  Grace is sitting next to me on the pew and I ask her if she can understand anything the priest is saying.  She tells me she can’t.  I say “you ought to understand a little more than me with all the Irish you’ve been learning.” she shrugs.  I hear the word “slieve” which I know means mountain and I figure out we’re hearing about Abraham on the mountain about to sacrific his child when god saves them from this tragedy.

Grace leans into me like a little baby bird leaning into it’s mother and I put my arm around her.  I get this powerful sense that the two of us are like strangers in a strange land, surrounded by weird statues covered in purple shrouds listening to an ancient ritual in an ancient language that has no relation to anything we’ve ever known.  I felt a little  lost, a little overwhelmed, and a little scared but I also felt like we were going to be ok.  Somehow it would be alright. 

Grace relaxes "in God's hands"

I know that being in Ireland right now is the right call, and I love exploring the new culture and the new relationships, but it does feel foreign sometimes and periodically I get that “Somewhere in Time” rush spinning my heart back to San Francisco.

Leap of Faith

3 Mar

So Leap Day was our wedding anniversary and we headed back to the place where it all started: Kinnity Castle, County Offaly.

As we drove into the little town, the road came in facing the tiny church, St. Flannan’s – don’t get me started on the Saint thing – so Mary and I thought it would be a good way to start off our anniversary by a visit to the church where we were married.

Being inside the church after twelve years was a complete mind blower.  I had forgotton all the little details.  It’s weird the way you can experience something so intense like your own wedding, and at the time you think you’ll never forget any of it.  Even if you do think “Oh, I better take it all in so I remember everything” you are still going to forget stuff.  I do remember standing at the altar, looking around and thinking just this thought to myself as I looked at all the details trying to commit them to memory.  And then time happened and I forgot all the little details.

We had loads of pictures so I thought I had remembered everything because I could look at the pictures and believe that everything I remembered from them was everything there was to remember.  But when I actually stepped back into the church on Wednesday, I realized I didn’t remember all the details at all.  I was, however, lucky enough to be back there and all the details rushed in on me: the wooden ceilings, the little organ, the shape and feel of the pews, the smell of the air.  It was a really powerful moment.

And on this leap day 2012, as Mary and I sat in the front row where I had waited patiently twelve years earlier for her to walk down the aisle, the church bells started ringing.  Mary said to me “why are the bells ringing?” and I looked around and there clearly wasn’t a wedding on, or a mass about to happen since we were the only ones there.  “Maybe it’s noon or something” I said.  But it was 12:20pm, not at time the bells would ring for a time-based alert. 

So we said to ourselves “maybe we can find who is ringing the bells and get them to take a picture of us in the doorway where we had a photo taken on our wedding day”.  But the bells stopped ringing and we couldn’t find anyone around to take our picture.  Very strange, but wonderful too, we felt like it was magic: the bells were ringing for us.

And we took our own picture in front of the church, a classic long-arm shot.

Then we headed up to the castle and settled in.  We had lunch in the library bar where twelve years earlier the party had raged the night before the wedding.  We finished lunch and took our tea in the front drawing room.  There wasn’t anyone there so we lit a roaring fire and read like it was our own (posh) living room. 

The management didn’t mind that we were availing of the facilities since there weren’t really a lot of guests and the management doesn’t really report to anyone anymore since the ownership has gone into bankruptcy and NAMA runs it.  If you live in the states and don’t know about NAMA it is like that “bad bank” you hear politicians talking about.  NAMA takes over asets from people and manages or runs them – so Kinnity, as sad as it is, doen’t really have an owner right now, but it still has employees and they do their jobs and the place stays open.  The food and service were just like I remembered.

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